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

The Marvellous Boy

Peter Corris

Peter Corris

The Marvellous Boy


The house had an unhurried, gracious air; the grounds were big, a couple of acres, and the three storeys rose up white and serene to a grey slate roof. But the lawn was scruffy and neglected, the garden beds needed weeding and from where I stood on the porch I could see daylight up through holes in the section of guttering above my head. When the house was built the view down to Rushcutters Bay would have been uninterrupted — the green would have flowed down to white shimmering sand with a deep blue beyond that. Now there was a lot of rooftop and highway and bad air between the house and the water.

I stood in front of the doorbell, a no-nonsense black button on a brass plate, feeling ambivalent. I should have felt out of place, a private detective with one phone, one car and no secretary, but the house’s down-at-heel character comforted me. Great edifices, like people, could fall on hard times. I hoped Lady Catherine Chatterton’s times weren’t too hard. I work for money, not for the privilege of dropping the names of my clients.

I rang the bell and straightened my clothes — leather jacket, good but old, clean shirt, clean denim pants, no tie. The door opened soundlessly and a dark-haired woman with a bold, beaky-nosed face stood there looking at me as if I were a rag-and-bone man.

‘Yes?’ Welcomes weren’t her big talent.

‘My name’s Hardy. Lady Catherine telephoned.’

She stepped forward as if she was going to smell me. ‘Ah, the detective.’ Her thin lips and small white teeth were contemptuous. ‘Yes, she told me to expect you. Usually I do her telephoning.’ She made a challenge of it and I decided that a smile might be in order.

‘Well, maybe you were busy.’

She sneered at that but stepped back and opened the door just enough for me to go past her. I smelled dust and the temperature dropped suddenly; the hot November morning was somewhere else and so were the bustling, vulgar 1980s. I’d stepped into a reception lobby with parquet flooring and panelled walls. The usual sounds of a modern house — refrigerator hum, air conditioning, talk-back radio — had never penetrated here. There were paintings on the walls, portraits I thought, but my eyes were slow to adjust to the gloom after the bright day. I had an impression of moustaches.

The woman pointed ahead of her with an imperious gesture like a general directing troops.

‘This way.’

I followed, trying to keep my feet clear of the legs of carved tables and ornately upholstered chairs. We went down a wide passage and then swung off into a narrower one, dropped down a short flight of stairs and entered a drawing room that reminded me of my school’s meeting hall. It was high-ceilinged with oak panelling reaching halfway up walls which were hung about with more paintings — dark, gloomy jobs that evoked memories of those school honour boards on which my name never appeared. A woman was sitting on a straight-backed chair in the middle of the room. A similar chair was placed a few feet in front of her; the woman and the chairs had all the warmth and charm of an executioner with his axe and block. Her arms were stick thin inside tight black velvet sleeves. She raised one dismissively.

‘You may go Verna.’

I watched how she took it; she’d been devouring the old woman with her eyes, burning her up and now she cut off the contact with an effort. Her dark hair was pulled back in a tight bun and her thin lips were like a strap keeping the pale, clear flesh on the lower part of her face tight. She was about thirty, handsome in an only-one-of-her-kind-in-captivity way. She looked as if she had a very good opinion of herself and a low one of nearly everyone else. She left the room.

The old woman waved me into the chair in front of her.

‘That is Miss Reid,’ she said. ‘My companion. A tiresome person in many ways but invaluable. You will be dealing with her in future.’

‘If I take the job.’

She raised an eyebrow. The gesture caused hundreds of tiny wrinkles to spring into life all over her face. Her skin was old-leaf yellow. She had a thin nose and mouth and all the life in her face was around the eyes. They were dark and still large although flesh had fallen in around them. They looked disconcertingly young in that ancient face.

‘I am of course Lady Catherine Chatterton.’

‘Of course.’

‘Don’t be flippant, Mr Hardy. The world is not a flippant place and neither is the situation I am about to confront you with.’

She sounded as if she had thought it all out so I let her have her say. Something about her voice, firm with the stamp of the right breeding and the right schools on it, struck a note in my memory. I’d been in court five or six years before when her late husband had handed down one of his savage judgements. It hadn’t worried me, I’d been on the winning side, but the manner and tone of voice of Justice Sir Clive Chatterton had stuck. Making allowance for the sex difference, this was the same stuff — measured, arrogant, utterly self-assured. I couldn’t have been flippant to save my life.

‘I want you to find my grandson.’

‘The police have a missing persons department,’ I said. ‘They’re experts.’ You have to tell them that. It’s like reading them their constitutional rights. They never listen. What she said in reply sounded like ‘Tsshaw’ and might have been.

‘He’s been missing for many years. The police would not have the resources or the flexibility the matter needs. Besides, I have been told that you are…‘ she hunted for the word, ‘discreet.’

That was nice. Not brave, not clever. Discreet.

‘Who told you that?’

She waved the question and everything to do with my professional standing aside.

‘I forget. It doesn’t matter.’

It did to me, a little. I’m not domineering but I don’t like having feet wiped on my face. Besides, it’s a bad working relationship. Mutual respect, that’s the thing to shoot for. I broke for cover.

‘I charge seventy-five dollars a day and expenses. I don’t touch political work and I don’t beat people up unless they try to beat on me.’

Her mouth slid down into a sour arc. ‘Ridiculous. That could run into thousands.’

I felt more relaxed, a chink in the armour. ‘It seldom does,’ I said soothingly. ‘Most matters are resolved one way or the other fairly quickly. I reduce the rates for the exceptions, when it’s a sort of long-term watching brief.’

I’d made a concession. She looked happier. ‘You’re in an unsavoury trade, Mr Hardy.’

‘It’s a living, like any other.’

‘No, that’s where you’re wrong. There are differences. The only honourable money is the sort of money that built and sustained this house.’ She looked around the walls. ‘Money from the land, money from the professions.’

I shrugged. She was a bit boring. Then it struck me that she burbled on like this because she was lonely, didn’t get enough people to talk to. Another chink.

‘Tell me about your grandson, Lady Catherine.’ I took out a pad and pen. ‘What’s his name?’

‘I don’t know.’

That wasn’t boring. I tapped the pen on the pad and waited for her to go on. She enjoyed the effect of the statement. I began to warm to her, a little.

‘It’s a long story, would you care for some tea?’

I wouldn’t but said I would and thanked her. I sensed that she’d rehearsed this scene in her mind and that it was important to her that it be played just right. I hate tea, but if tea was part of it I’d go along.

‘Good, some should be arriving presently.’ She glanced at a tiny gold watch and nodded confirmation; her eyesight was remarkable.

‘I must tell you things, Mr Hardy, which ordinarily I wouldn’t tell a soul, not even a close member of the family — if such a person existed.’

I nodded and tried to look discreet, my strong point.

‘My husband and I had only one child, that was a sadness.’ She raised a hand to her pale, dry hair as if saluting the days of her fertility, or infertility. ‘Our daughter, Bettina, was born in 1931, she was married very young, at seventeen years of age. The marriage did not last long, a few years only. Bettina’s husband was a barrister, a very promising man at the time but he turned out to be weak, a drunkard. He was some years older than Bettina.

‘How much older?’

‘Oh, twenty years.’

‘I see.’

I didn’t really. Seventeen-year-old girls don’t usually go for men in their late thirties. They tend to regard us as doddering. Some do of course, but I thought I could smell ‘arrangement’ in this one and her next remark increased the suspicion.

‘My husband took steps to terminate the marriage.’


‘An annulment.’

‘Why did your daughter marry so young?’

She shot me a sharp look. ‘Not for the reason you may be entertaining. Bettina was… well, wild and flighty. She showed an interest in Henry and he seemed steady. We thought marriage might settle her down. She was our only child, we had to protect her.’

‘From what?’

‘From herself.’

It saddened me. ‘From her youth’ she might as well have said. I turned a page of the pad.

‘Tell me about Henry, the husband. What’s his other name?’

‘Brain, Henry Brain… ah, here’s the tea.’


Verna Reid wheeled a glass and stainless steel trolley about two feet into the room. Silver pots and jugs gleamed, bone china tinkled. She poured milk and tea, added sugar and brought the cup across.

‘I’m going out,’ she said.

‘You will not!’ The old woman strained at the chair’s arm rests trying to lift herself. ‘Not with that man. I forbid it!’

Verna Reid laughed. She thrust the tea out. Lady Catherine took it and tea slopped into the saucer. Two spots of high colour burned suddenly in her parchment pale cheeks. She slammed the cup down, tea sprayed and bits of thin china skidded across the floor. The dark woman laughed again.

‘Get on with your silly chat,’ she said and walked out of the room.

The old woman fought for control. She blinked and plucked at her scrawny neck. I got up and pulled the trolley across, poured her more tea and handed it to her.

‘Thank you.’ She took the tea then reached out and took a buttered scone. Her hand was rock steady. ‘I’m hard to work for,’ she said. ‘You’ll find that out.’

‘I still haven’t said I’ll work for you.’

‘We won’t fence, Mr Hardy,’ she said around her scone. She did it without any offensive noise. Breeding. ‘I’ll pay your seventy-five dollars a day and my accountant will look over your expenses. If they are not too ridiculous they’ll be met.’

It had been a lean six months with more going out than coming in. The Falcon’s clutch needed overhauling and the stack of bills at home was reaching half way up the spike. I needed every cent of the seventy-five a day and she could see it.

‘I’ll need a retainer of two hundred and fifty dollars,’ I said.

Her tea cup rang against the saucer and she let out a short, high laugh. ‘All right, Mr Hardy, all right. The last word is yours, you’ll get a cheque when you leave. Now perhaps I can get on with what I have to tell you. Have some tea.’

I shook my head.

‘Bettina had a long illness after the marriage ended, she travelled abroad with my husband and myself on one occasion and with a friend on another. I believe her to be unstable, she was a disappointment to us.’

‘Does she live in Sydney? Do you see her?’

‘Yes to your first question, no to your second. We had a falling-out. I dislike her second husband and her children. Always have. The rift between us has grown.’ She looked at a point above and behind my head. ‘My husband was a great man, Mr Hardy, a great man. He had the greatest legal mind in this country in this century, but no son, no way to build a legal firm of distinction. I am editing his memoirs, they’ll show the world his quality.’

She was talking to herself and there was nothing for me to say. Still I felt there was a connection between all this and the information she had to give me. I was sure of one thing — she blamed herself for not giving the great man a son. The memoirs would be a belated child.

‘I share Sir Clive’s tragedy, the absence of an heir.’

‘I thought you said your daughter had children.’

‘They are not suitable,’ she flared. ‘I have disinherited them. Bettina, too, although she doesn’t know it. I am pinning all my hopes on you, Mr Hardy. You see, I have learned of a grandson.’

I struggled not to leer. The armour was cracking like sandy cement.

‘Sir Clive had an illegitimate child?’

‘Certainly not!’ she spat. ‘He was the most moral of men, the most scrupulous. No, Henry Brain and Bettina had a son, he must be thirty now.’

‘How did you discover this?’

‘Henry Brain told me. He wanted money from my husband. He came here. I hadn’t seen him for a great many years and I scarcely recognised him. He was a wreck, a ruin from drink. He looked as old as

…’ She stopped herself. ‘How he got to the house and inside I don’t know. He forced his way in here, almost knocked Verna down. He broke in on me, here.’ She waved her hand around indignantly.

‘What did he say exactly?’

‘He raved. He was frightfully drunk. My husband was away in Canberra. When I refused to give him money Henry became abusive. He taunted me by telling me about my grandson whom I’ve never known.’

‘What did he say?’

‘He said he wouldn’t be surprised if the boy… man was on the way to being just like him, a piece of rubbish. It was a terrible thing to say.’

‘I mean, what details did he give you of the birth?’

‘None, or almost none. He said the child was born during the first year of marriage, that Bettina went away to have it and returned without it. He said Bettina blackmailed him into concealing everything about the child. She hated him and wouldn’t bring up his child.’

‘Do you remember her being away for long enough at the time?’

She put her hand up to her forehead, a tracery of fine, blue veins was visible through the tight white skin.

‘I’ve tried, I can’t remember. They travelled a good deal.’

‘How would she have blackmailed him?’

‘Henry Brain had a full complement of the human weaknesses, Mr Hardy, it could have been almost anything.’

‘You say he was drunk and raving, why did you believe him?”

‘I can judge character. Truth has a different quality from falsehood. Henry was telling the truth, I’m sure of it.’

She wanted to believe it. It could have been true, but the story had a wild insubstantiality like the memory of a dream. Even thirty years ago it was hard to evade registering the birth of a child. Not as hard as now but hard enough. I asked her what her daughter had to say about it and got the answer I anticipated.

‘She denied it, denied it utterly. I pressed her hard but she said that Henry was a worthless liar and that we should never…that she should never have had anything to do with him. She was lying.’

‘This was when you and your daughter fell out?’


‘When was it?’

‘Two years ago.’

‘Two years!’

‘Sir Clive was not well at the time,’ she said quickly. ‘I didn’t want to alarm him by taking any steps then. He died a year ago, as you will know.’

‘I read about it. Why wait until now to do something about this? Have you been in touch with Brain again?’ I added, hoping.

‘No, he never troubled us again. He was too addled to follow a fixed purpose. I suppose he just took it into his diseased brain to batten on to us and gave up when the approach failed. I’ve had time to mull this over, Mr Hardy. My daughter is like a stranger to me. I’m sure I’m doing the right thing. I want that man found and restored to his rightful place in the world.’

‘What if Brain was right… what if he’s… unsuitable?’

‘I pray that it won’t be so. He may be a man of distinction in his own right. It will take delicate handling, Mr Hardy.’ The idea of her scheme succeeding took hold of her and shone in her eyes. ‘I’ll pay you anything you like, a hundred dollars a day. Just find my grandson.’

‘That won’t be necessary. A hundred a day would warp my style. Seventy-five is fine. It’s an intriguing case and I’ll take it but you have to be aware of the problems.’

She sat back, tired by her outburst and regretting the slip of control.

‘And they are?’

‘Basically three. One, Brain may have been lying and there is no grandson, never was. Two, there may have been a child and it could have died. Three, if there was a child it may be impossible to trace. Thirty years is a long time and the trail this end is cold by two years. Brain is the obvious starting point and if he was as far gone as you say, he could be dead by now.’

‘I accept those hurdles. I have faith that they can be overcome.’

She was used to getting her own way and I could only hope that her luck would hold. Her luck would be my luck. If the thing fizzled, two weeks on those rates would be a thousand plus change. Handy. Besides, I fancied working for the aristocracy, it’d give me something to put in my memoirs. That train of thought led me back to the judge and his daughter.

‘I’ll need a number of details, Lady Catherine. Your daughter’s name and address, information on everybody in this house.’

She was displeased. She grunted. Suddenly I wanted the case and the thousand, bad. I went on quickly. ‘I’ll need as many descriptions of Brain as I can gather, others may recall different details. By the way, does anyone other than you know about his claim to have had a son?’

‘No one.’

‘Not Miss Reid?’

‘Certainly not, I sent her away when I recognised Henry.’

‘Who else could have seen him then?’

‘I really couldn’t say. I have no staff now apart from Verna.’

She sounded like Bob Menzies lamenting the Empire.

‘Sir Clive had… expensive tastes and there is not a great deal of money left. But there are possibilities. The right man could revive our fortunes.’

It was sounding thinner, more fantastic. I felt less sure about my expenses but you have to give of your best.

‘Did you have any staff then — when Brain was here?’

She tilted her head back as if it took a physical effort to recall details of menials. ‘There may have been a chauffeur then. Yes, I think there was.’

‘Would you have some sort of record on him?’

‘Verna would. She should be back soon.’

She said it as if she hoped so; I wondered about their relationship. I also wondered about the Judge’s tastes. I asked for a description of Henry Brain.

He was a tall, thin man she said, but stooped over. His hair was grey and sparse and he was almost toothless. She said that the only sign that he had once been a gentleman was his hands — they were clean and well kept. His clothes sounded like cast-offs.

‘Did he tell you what he’d been doing in the past twenty-odd years?’

She paused. ‘I think he said he’d travelled. I don’t recall distinctly. It was easy to see what he’d been doing — drinking. My guess is that he’d been in and out of jail.’

‘That could be important. Any evidence?’

She shook her old head, no. But it hadn’t stopped her saying it. Her husband had sent enough men inside in his time, perhaps she had an instinct about it.

‘He didn’t tell you where he lived?’

She shook her head.

‘No. But I believe you should look for him on skid row.’

Her hands flew up to her mouth too late to stop the incongruous words. They were totally out of place for a woman so careful in her speech, so mindful to avoid the lurid. They suggested that she could be a closet television watcher and that raised another problem for me — this whole thing could be a bloody fantasy. The moment was awkward and then we were both startled by the sound of a voice screaming. ‘No!’ and the sound of a door crashing closed. Lady C brushed a scone crumb from her dress.

‘Verna,’ she said wearily. ‘Fraught as usual. Go and see her and get what you need, Mr Hardy. It will give me a respite.’

I got up, said something vague about reporting to her and went out.

The passage outside the room had a big window with a view of the drive up to the house. I took a look and saw a blue car shooting down the gravel; it skidded around a bend in the drive and took off through the gates as if someone was out there with a chequered flag.


I found Miss Reid two turns down the passageway. She was leaning against the wall breathing heavily. Her fists were clenched and a few wisps of hair had escaped from her bun. I told her what I wanted, got a short nod and she set off down the passageway which ended at a heavy oak door. I caught up with her and stood close while she unlocked the door. Years of training and field research paid off — her breath smelled of gin.

The room was small with a desk, a straight chair, an easy chair and a couple of filing cabinets. Without speaking she took a cheque book from a drawer in the desk and a pen from a set precisely lined up with the desk blotter. She wrote out a cheque and handed it to me.

‘Thanks. Do you sign all her cheques, Miss Reid?’

‘Yes,’ she snapped. ‘For the household and the estate.’

I folded the cheque and put it in my pocket, it restored my confidence; she didn’t look like the sort of woman who wrote rubber cheques.

‘Good bit of that is there? Estate I mean.’

She bit on the end of the pen and then pulled it away, almost spitting the words out. ‘I sized you up in one look. You’re going to trade on this poor old fool’s weakness and bleed her for whatever you can.’ She threw down the pen. ‘You make me sick.’

‘I didn’t see too much weakness.’

‘You wouldn’t, you’re too stupid. She’s batty.’ She got up, opened the biggest filing cabinet and riffled through until she came upon a single sheet of paper. ‘Get out your notebook, detective,’ she said.

I did and wrote what she read out to me — ‘Albert Logan, 31 View Street, Leichhardt.’ She put the paper back and slammed the drawer home. She stood with her back to the cabinet, tight and hostile, still breathing hard and wafting a little gin across to me. She was like no paid companion I’d ever seen; that sort of job dries people out. Being paid for their responses and emotions erodes their personalities, turns them into husks. She was well and truly living and breathing. Her clothes were severe on her lean frame but they suited her. She obviously knew things, had opinions, but there was no way to make her an ally.

I dropped into the easy chair and took out tobacco and papers. She started to protest but I gave her a hard look and she subsided. She sat down behind the desk, scornful again, and watched me get a cigarette going, flip the dead match into a waste paper basket and dirty the air.

‘It’d all be easier with your co-operation,’ I said.

She gave a short laugh. ‘Why should I make it easier for you to snoop on me?’

I was genuinely surprised and nearly choked on the smoke. ‘You? I’m not investigating you.’

‘What then?’

‘I can’t tell you,’ I said weakly.

She stirred in her chair. ‘You’re a cheap liar. Snoop away, I’ve got nothing to hide.’

‘Why do you stay here?’

‘So that’s it,’ she snarled. ‘You’re going to harass me. It won’t work. I’m staying until I get what’s due to me.’ She was short-fused and fierce burning.

‘And what’s that?’ I asked quietly.

‘Money. What else? Bonuses and money promised. That old bugger.. ’ Her mouth clamped down and she drew in breath as if to recall the words. She glared at me. I put the cigarette out carefully in a glass ashtray.

‘I want you to tell me all you can about the man who called here about two years ago, the one who looked like a tramp.’

It was her turn to look surprised. ‘Why?’

‘Just tell me.’

She thought about it, calculating the odds like a street fighter. ‘I remember him,’ she said slowly. ‘Dreadful smell.’

‘Was he violent?’

‘A bit. Not too much. He was too drunk to be a danger to anyone except himself.’

‘What happened? Did he just walk in? What about this chauffeur — he didn’t try to stop him?’

‘I assume he was bribed. He was a miserable dishonest wretch. That’s why I sacked him.’

‘Over this incident?’

‘Not specifically. There were a lot of things. Expenses connected with the car, using it himself. He was a cheap crook.’ She looked me directly in the eye when she said it so we were back to square one. I grunted.

‘Back to this derelict. Can you describe him?’

She did, in terms very similar to the old woman’s, but their descriptions didn’t sound collusive. Brain had struck these two very different women in much the same way which probably meant that I had a pretty good picture of him.

Miss Reid’s dislike of me was bubbling up again; she was anxious to remove my cigarette butt and ashes, all traces of me. I asked for and got the daughter’s address, a request which made her look thoughtful again but not friendly. I told her I wanted to look around the grounds and she showed me out through a side door. She didn’t say goodbye. A thought niggled at me as I was leaving the house and I trapped it as I walked across a patch of dried-out lawn. If Lady C. had disinherited the daughter and her brood, who was in line for the estate as of now? It was something to check.

The sun had climbed while I’d been in the house and sweat jumped out on my body as I moved. I peeled off my jacket and slung it over my shoulder. The land behind the house was taken up by a tennis court, a swimming pool, plenty of lawn and a two car garage. The garage was empty except for oil stains and some rusted tools; the swimming pool was empty except for leaves, dirt and greenish slime. I looked back at the house and the full force of its elegant shabbiness hit me. There were broken tiles on the roof and discoloured bricks showing through peeling paint. The place looked as if it was waiting for a renovator or a demolition crew. I walked across to the tennis court, recalling my athletic youth and hoping for comfort but the tapes marking the lines were buckled and broken and wind and water had removed a lot of the surface from the court.

I trudged down past the house to my car; its dull paintwork and air of neglect fitted the scene but depressed me. I had a week’s money in my pocket and an interesting case on hand and I should have felt better as I turned the car on the gravel and drove off towards the highway.


It was midday, too early to go search out bums on skid row. They stand out better at night when the moonlight is shining on the port bottles and their throats are dry and a dollar will buy you everything they know. It was time to deal with the daylight people. I did a mental check on how much money I owed Cy Sackville my lawyer, decided it was a flea bite to him and put through a call.

We exchanged pleasantries and I told him I was on a case which should net me a few bucks. He congratulated me.

‘I need some information, Cy.’

‘The meter is ticking.’

‘Don’t be like that. You scratch my back and I scratch yours.’

‘When do I get scratched?’

‘Sometime. Have you ever heard of a man named Henry Brain, promising barrister in the forties, went on the skids?’

‘The forties! Are you kidding, who’s still alive from the forties?’

Cy was and is a boy wonder. He refused a chair of law at age twenty-five — no challenge. He despises everyone over thirty-five. It used to be everyone over thirty.

‘Could you ask around? There must be some old buffer who’d remember him. He married Judge Chatterton’s daughter.’

‘It so happens I’m going to a professional dinner tonight. There could be some octogenarian around who’d remember him.’

‘Thanks. Do you know who handles the late Judge’s estate, legal affairs and so on?’

‘Yeah, we’ve transacted — Booth and Booth. What’s your interest?’

‘The widow is my client, confidential enquiry.’

He coughed. ‘Of course.’

‘Thing is, I’d like to know who she’s going to leave the loot to. Any chance of finding out?’

‘That’s a tall order, confidential matter, very, very…’

‘Quite,’ I said, ‘but…?’

‘Possible. Young Booth’ll be at the dinner. He might get pissed and we could discuss the earthly rewards of judges. I’ll try.’

I thanked him, asked him to find out all he could about the Chattertons and said I’d call again soon.

‘Cross all cheques,’ he said.

I headed north to have a chat with Bettina. She went by the name of Selby, now having married one Richard Selby, company director. I stopped in the dry belt, where restaurants are many and pubs are few, and bought beer and sandwiches for lunch. It was hot in the car so I wound all the windows down and sat there eating, drinking and thinking.

A full frontal attack on Mrs Selby was out of the question. ‘Mrs Selby, did you have a child in 1948? And if so where is it?’ She’d throw me out or call the cops. I didn’t expect to get the unassailable truth which she alone knew but she’d be worth a look. If she turned out to be a sober, steady woman of straight eye and piercing honesty I’d have to drop the odds on finding baby. If, on the other hand… I screwed up the wrapping and took it and the beer cans to the bin. They’re hell on litterers in this part of the world.

The Selbys lived in one of the northern arcadias that developed over the last fifteen years. None of the houses would have sold for under a hundred and twenty thousand dollars but it was remarkable what different things that sort of money could get you. The place was a map of the building fads of the sixties and seventies — quintuple-fronted brick veneers, long ranch houses with flat roofs; grey brick and tinted glass creations hung off steep slopes like downhill skiers ready to let go. There were Spanish arches and Asian pagodas, even a tasteful townhouse or two among native trees.

Chez Selby was one of the worst — a monstrosity in liver-coloured brick with a purplish tiled roof. The whole thing reminded me of a slab of old meat. It was up to scratch in the neighbourhood though, with a half acre of lawn and shrubs. From the street I could see the glint of a pool out back. I pulled up outside another heavy mortgage down the street. I looked at my clothes and decided that I was a journalist. She’d never believe I was from Booth and Booth.

The street was quiet the way such streets are in the early afternoon; the kids are at school, the old man’s at work, the wife is playing golf or gardening. The butt of a Honda Accord stuck out of one of the two car ports — Mrs S wasn’t on the links. I had my jacket on and I was hot. Up the path past the shrubs to the front door. It was a heavy number with a security screen. The bell was in the navel of a foot-high plaster bas-relief mermaid attached to the bricks. Chinese opera gongs sounded inside the house.

She wasn’t the golfing or gardening type, more the bar and bed type. She opened the door, dropped a hip and eyed me off. She was a tall, heavy woman, a redhead with fine dark eyes courtesy of her mother. There the resemblance ended; Bettina Brain Selby nee Chatterton was a chip off the old block. Her colour was high and her shoulders were broad. She carried her bulk as the Judge had done, as if heavy people were still in style.

I looked at her for just a fraction too long. ‘Mrs Selby?’

‘Yes.’ The voice was furry with liquor, sleep, sex? Maybe all three. She might have a lover there. Awkward.

I gave her a grin. ‘I’m Peter Kennedy, I’m a journalist doing a feature piece on your late father, Sir Clive Chatterton?’ I let my voice go up enquiringly the way the smart young people seem to do these days. I’d shaved close that morning, my shirt was clean, I might make it. She swivelled her hips and made a space in the doorway.

‘Come on in, Peter.’

I went past her into a hall with deep shag pile carpet in off-white and oyster walls. It felt like stepping into a bowl of yoghurt. Mrs Selby slid along a wall and opened a door and we went into a big room full of large leather structures to sit in and polished black surfaces to put things on. She picked up a glass and rattled the ice cubes.


‘Not now thanks, perhaps after a few questions?’

She looked bored, sat down and waved me into a chair.

‘ ‘Kay. Up to you.’ She sighed and a lot of big bosom under cream silk went up and down and some Bacardi fumes drifted gently across towards me.

‘You should ask my mother about all this shit,’ she slurred. ‘She’s the one who keeps the shrine, not me.’

‘That could be an interesting angle. Was Sir Clive a harsh parent? He had a reputation for severity on the bench.’

‘I can believe it.’ She sipped. ‘Christ yes, he was tough on me. Course, I’m the same with my kids so I can’t talk. He used his belt on me plenty of times. Can’t print any of this, you know.’


‘Can’t afford to offend the old girl. She’s got the money. We never seem to have enough.’

‘What’s your husband’s business, Mrs Selby?’

‘Bettina. He makes weight lifting stuff, gym equipment, all that. He does all right but we eat it up. School’s bloody expensive and holidays… Christ, I live for those holidays. Ever been to Singapore, Peter?’

I said I had.

‘Smart man. Great isn’t it? We have a ball.’

‘It’s marvellous,’ I said primly. ‘You were saying something about not offending your mother?’ I had the pen and pad out again.

‘Ah, was I? Well we don’t get along. She knows I’d belt that bloody mausoleum down and sell the land for units. But there’s the kids to consider. I try to keep on the good side of her but there’s that Reid bitch, she’s got her eye on the land. Christ, what a miserable place to grow up in. Look, I’m rambling, you don’t want to hear any of this crap you can’t use. Have a drink.’

‘All right, yes.’

‘Bacardi okay?’


Her own glass was lowish, not what you’d call empty but getting that way. Lots of drinkers don’t like to see their glasses one-third full, it looks like two-thirds empty. She was in that league and keen enough to haul all that weight to its feet and take it out to where the booze lived. She drifted out, moving like someone who knows how to move; it was part theatrical, part sheer confidence. It made her hard to assess — like a car that looks and goes all right but is a bit too old and exotic for comfort.

She came back with her own glass full and nice big one for me. The rum had been introduced to some tonic but not too closely. On top of my lunch it made the beginnings of a formidably alcoholic afternoon. I took a pull and she knocked back a good slug. I took out tobacco and cocked my head inquiringly. She pushed an ashtray in the shape of a temple at me — a touch of Singapore.

‘One vice I don’t have,’ she giggled. ‘I knew a writer once who rolled his own. He lived in Balmain. You live in Balmain?’

‘No, Glebe.’

She rolled her glass between her palms. I was sweating despite the air conditioning and started to ease out of my jacket.

‘You don’t mind?’

‘Hell no, it’s hot, take if off, take off your pants.’

I grinned. ‘Business,’ I said firmly, ‘business.’

She lay back in her chair. ‘You’re going to be dull,’ she said petulantly. ‘You didn’t look dull. Everyone’s dull except me.’ She downed half of her drink to prove it. I didn’t want her to turn nasty so I put some away too.

‘We haven’t talked at all yet,’ I said. ‘Back to the judge…’

‘No, not yet — bottoms up. Next drink we’ll really talk. C’mon drink up.’

She tipped her head back and drank the stuff like lemonade. I finished mine in two swallows and she picked up the glasses and ambled off again. I tried to remember why I was there as the liquor rose in my blood and started to fuddle me. I got up — keep moving, that’s the rule, sit and you’re gone — and slid open the doors dividing the drinking room from the next. It turned out to be the eating room; there was a big teak table with six pricey-looking chairs around it and a bowl of flowers in the middle. A couple of nasty prints hung on the pastel walls and a framed photograph stood on a sideboard. I weaved across and picked it up. It showed the lady I was drinking with, a man and two children. Bettina looked a few years younger and a few pounds lighter. I studied the man; he was a heavy character with a round face and receding hair which he wore longish with thick dark sideburns. He was packed into an executive suit with the trimmings and had his arm around Bettina and the girls. But he was smiling as if the camera was on him alone. With him the photographer had failed to achieve the family feel. He was the type to make every post a personal winner. The girls looked to be about ten and twelve, they were round and red like their dad — their mother was right, they’d need the money.

She wandered in and handed me the glass. Her own was full but if she was the drinker I thought she was she’d have sneaked one out by the ice cubes. She stood beside me, close.

‘That’s us,’ she said.

‘Nice family.’ I put the picture down.

She stayed where she was and I was pinned in a corner. In her high-heeled sandals she wasn’t much shorter than me. She tossed back her hair and put her hand on my arm.

‘You know Richard and I have an arrangement when we go to Singapore. Want to know what it is?’


I sipped rum and looked at her eyes. The lids were drooping and the pupils were dilated. She was well on the way to her afternoon nap. She had just one thing in mind now and there was no point in pretending to be a journalist or a gentleman. I took hold of her arm to steady her. It was a nice, firm arm. She leaned into me.

‘We give each other two free nights, no questions asked. Understand?’

‘I think so.’

‘I’m a passionate woman.’ She pressed her breasts against me and set her glass down to have both hands free.

‘I can see that,’ I said. ‘No wonder you enjoy your holiday. When’s it due?’

She stopped trying to undo my shirt. She grabbed the drink to help her ponder the question.

‘Must be soon,’ she said slowly. She drank some more and spilled a little down the front of her dress. She wiped at it and the contact with her own body seemed to excite her. I edged back a bit.

She came after me. ‘What’s the matter? Don’t you want me?’

I didn’t. I’ve got nothing against women older than me. I’d just finished a relationship with a woman almost as old as Bettina and it had been good, for a while. But this lady was skidding and disintegrating and I didn’t want to be part of the wreck. As well as that, I’d have to see her again as the inquiry developed and a boozy bedding now was no way to start. I tried to deter her by passivity but she came on reaching for my head. I noticed that she had long fingernails, almost colourless. She was in close with her hand on the back of my neck when I heard a noise, like something falling to the floor.

The man in the photograph was in the room, a briefcase was on the floor and he was moving towards me with his fists clenched as I pulled free of his wife. She clung and he got one punch in, a hard swing which I took on the shoulder moving away. He was taller and wider than he looked in the picture, but musclebound. He was slow and I ducked his next swing and slammed him in the ribs. A one-punch fighter who didn’t seem to know what to do after that, he lowered his head and blundered forward and I clipped him hard on the ear and let him fall over my foot. He went down heavily and lost his wind. He started to get up and I put my foot on his chest and thumped him down. I was lucky he wasn’t a Famechon. I was in no condition to handle anything fancy.

Bettina had stood stock still, breathing heavily. I’d kept a side eye on her in case she decided to take part but she seemed frozen. Selby levered himself up from the floor, I guessed that the flab on him was old weight-lifting muscle. He’d still be dangerous if he could use the weight. I tensed myself but he swung around and belted Bettina across the face. She doubled over and just made it to a chair. She sat and started to giggle. Selby jabbed a finger at me.

‘Get out,’ he gasped, ‘before I call the police.’

I collected my jacket and tobacco and moved towards the door. He rubbed at his ear; I picked up his briefcase and flicked it at him, hard. It took him in the chest and he staggered back. Cheap stuff.

Bettina giggled again and let her head drop; the hair hung across her face like a curtain of blood.


It hadn’t been my proudest hour. Mrs Selby hadn’t passed the sobriety and steadiness test but she wasn’t a complete ruin. There was a strength about her, eroded by the booze and other things, but still present. She might be capable of obliterating a child from her life, then again that act might have something to do with the drinking. But Richard looked like the candidate for that role — a hell of a good timer when he was up and a real bastard when he was down. Bettina had no time for mum and dad, that was clear — appeals to uncover the lost grandson would cut no ice with her for the best of reasons. Weighing it all up, as much as the aggressive traffic would let me, I concluded that I hadn’t learned a damn thing, hadn’t earned a cent of the money in my pocket. The way to start earning it was to find Henry Brain.

The traffic was heavy all the way back to the city and beyond. I picked up Bridge Road and slogged down through Glebe to Leichhardt which has some nice places and some not-so-nice. Logan’s address was somewhere in between, veering towards the non-nice. It was a big three-storey terrace with a deep, overgrown garden in front. The place was divided into flatettes and a roughly painted notice on the gate told me that Logan was upstairs front in flat three. The walls had been painted within the last five years, the floor had been cleaned within the last month and the stair carpet was anchored on most steps. I went up; the bright day died on the first landing and a boarding house gloom took over.

I knocked at a plywood door with 3 painted on it. Paint had dribbled down six inches from the tail of the figure. Someone inside swore softly; bedsprings creaked, paper rustled and a drawer opened and closed. I waited. Bare feet squeaked on the floor inside. I had ten dollars in my hand and held it in front of his face when he opened the door. He grinned and grabbed. I whisked it away.

‘Albert Logan?’

‘That’s me, mate. You can leave the money.’

‘I might if I hear what I want to hear.’

‘I’ll try to oblige.’ He held the door open and I went in. It wasn’t much. Fifteen dollars a week tops. Albie must have been saving his tips. There was the usual mahogany veneer furniture and anonymous lino. There was an old, lumpy looking department store bed with a pair of fifty dollar shoes peeking coyly out. The mirror on the dresser was streaked, the doors leading to the balcony had grimy glass panels — Albie wasn’t spending anything on front. He sank back onto the bed and pulled cigarettes towards him.

‘Smoke?’ he held out the packet.

I shook my head and sniffed the air. Albie watched me like a fire spotter watching a pine forest. The sweet smell of marijuana hung on the air like a promise. Albie lit up and blew smoke around ostentatiously.

‘If you’re on a bust you’re wasting your time.’


‘Protection,’ he blew a shaky smoke ring. ‘I’ve got protection. You check around, Slim, you’ll find out.’

I sat in a tired armchair. ‘I’m not on a bust. You can cut heroin with ground-down toenail for all I care. I want some information.’

‘Tough guy,’ he sneered.

‘Don’t push me,’ I said. ‘I’ve had a hard day in the suburbs. I might throw you off the balcony just to hear the glass break.’

It wasn’t much to say and didn’t look so hard to do. He was more like a jockey than a driver or a steward, not more than five two and the ball of muscle he’d once been was getting a coating of fat. Still, he could be right for those trades; drivers and stewards work in confined spaces and extra inches get in the way. His hair was thinning across a pink scalp and dark stubble was bristling on his pale cheeks — a night person who slept while the sun shone. I smoothed out the ten dollars.

‘You used to work for the Chattertons, driving.’

‘Right, no sweat there Slim. I left that job clean as a whistle.’

‘Who said you didn’t? Put your guilty conscience away, it craps me. Do you remember a tramp coming to see the old lady, a few years back?’

He drew the cigarette down to the filter and squashed it out in a saucer. ‘I remember him. What a wreck! You could have bottled his breath.’

‘What did he say to you?’

‘Not much. He wanted to see the lady.’

‘Why’d you give him a hearing?’

He scratched his jaw, remembering. ‘Well, it was like this. I was surprised to see a tramp up there. But that’s not all. He got out of a cab and I saw him flash some money. He told the cabbie to wait.’

‘Did the cab wait?’

‘You bet it did. He had a roll like this.’ He made a circle of his thumbs and forefingers. ‘Well, I’m stretching it a bit but he had some dough, I can tell you.’

‘What sort of cab was it?’


‘You’re very sure.’

‘Look, it was very unusual, I can see it like yesterday.’

‘Did you see the driver?’

‘I did, yeah.’

‘Remember him like yesterday?’

‘When do we start talking money? I think I can help if you’re trying to find that guy. That’s it isn’t it?’

‘That’s it. What’ve you got?’

‘Five’ll get you a whiff of it.’

I pulled out my wallet, peeled off five dollars and gave it to him.

‘Thanks.’ He put it under the pillow. ‘You asked the wrong question Slim.’

‘What question?’

‘Him. You shoulda said her.’


‘The cabbie was a her — blonde, that’s all I saw.’

‘Good, go on!’

‘Well, like I said, he had money, new tens, I got one…’

‘So I heard, and…?’

He’d shot his bolt. He groped around for something to say. ‘Ah, let’s see, he talked pretty good — educated, you know? But the grog had got to his voice.’ He did a fair imitation of a meths drinker’s croak on the last words.

I was depressed by what I was doing and hearing. The room depressed me. I wanted to be eating and drinking somewhere light and airy with someone young and optimistic. It made me impatient that I didn’t know anyone like that.

‘You’ll be tap-dancing in a minute,’ I snarled. ‘Cut out the shit. Did he say anything important? Give you any idea where he lived?’

‘No. He lived out mate. Face was buggered, you know the way they get. There was something though…’

‘His hands?’

‘His hands! Right! Most derros, shit you wouldn’t let them put their hands down your dunny, but his hands were white and smooth like.’

I handed over the floating ten. ‘Do you remember Miss Reid, the companion?’

‘Do I what. Hatchet-faced old bitch.’

I wouldn’t have called her old or particularly hatchet-faced, but he was talking character, not physiognomy.

‘You didn’t get on with her?’

‘Who could?’ He lit a cigarette, needing something to counter the angry memories. ‘The judge couldn’t stand her and I was with him all the way.’

‘What was wrong with her?’

‘High and mighty. Humble as shit when the old lady was around and Queen shit when she wasn’t.’

He was scrambling his images and running low on vocabulary but the sentiment sounded genuine. ‘All servants hate servants’, who said that? I couldn’t remember. Maybe that was all there was to it but it was worth another question.

‘Did Miss Reid have a boyfriend when you were there?’

His answer was a derisive snort and a shake of his head. Then he looked down at his belly and the room and recognised that he wasn’t doing so well in the sexual stakes himself. The realisation sobered him.

‘She’s got one now,’ I said.

‘That right? Must be a mug.’

Our exchanges were getting aimless but I had a feeling that he was holding something back. The talking and drinking and driving had unravelled me and I couldn’t think how to probe for it. I got out a card and put it on the bed.

‘That’s me,’ I said, getting up. ‘If you think of anything useful get in touch. There could be some money in it.’

He put the card and the ten where he’d put the five.

‘You mean about shit face Reid, Slim?’

‘Don’t call me that. About her or anything. You’ve got something more to say about her?’

‘I might. Give us another five.’

I moved over to the bed, grabbed the neck of his shirt, twisted and pulled. The cloth cut into his fat neck.

‘You know Albie, I don’t really like pushers, not really. I don’t think I’ve had good value from you. What will your protection do about a jelly nose?’

He squirmed and tried to pull free. I twisted harder.

‘Okay, okay,’ he rasped. ‘I’ll tell you. Let go.’

I dropped him onto the bed, the saucer jumped and spilled ashes and butts across the blanket.

‘Shit! I drove Miss Reid to the Botanical Gardens once.’

‘Albie, you didn’t. What tree did you do it under?’

‘Don’t joke about it, I’d rather go without. She met a bloke there. I got pissed off waiting and went to take a look. I saw her sitting on a bench talking to a bloke.’

‘Describe him.’

‘That’s hard, I wasn’t close.’

‘Young or old?’

‘Middling. All I remember is he had sideburns,’ he sketched in facial hair, ‘like Elvis Presley.’

‘Maybe that’s who it was. How long did they talk?’

‘Maybe half an hour.’

‘How was she afterwards?’

‘Same as always, fuckin’ frozen.’

‘Funny you don’t like her Albie. I got the feeling she thought you were a bit of all right.’

He looked up at me and dug the card out.

‘Private detective,’ he said.

I nodded.


‘Don’t push your luck. I could fix it so’s you’d be cleaning out the carriages.’

I went out leaving the door open. It slammed when I was halfway down the stairs.


It was nearly five o’clock, Friday. I drove to my bank in Glebe, paid in the Chatterton cheque and drew out half of it — my grandfather was a Scot. Then I thought that it could be a busy weekend coming up and a shortage of cash would be inconvenient. I drew another hundred and to hell with my grandfather, what did he ever do for me? I might even have some fun, he’d have hated that.

I bought groceries and wine and went home. The house was quiet as usual, lonely as usual. My ex-wife Cyn had never been there and my ex-woman Ailsa very seldom. It was just a place for sleeping, eating, drinking and thinking. I put on some music, B. B. King, got out my pen and pad and tried to arrange what I’d learned, see what directions it suggested. Nothing came, too early. All I had were male and female signs on bits of paper with names and some bits with signs but no names — like the woman who delivered the baby, if there was a baby. And a bit with a male sign on it and a question mark. I gave up on it, grilled some meat and tossed some salad. The beer and Bacardi were old memories and I poured some riesling down on top of them.

After the meal I used the telephone. All organisations present confidential fronts — especially about their personnel

— which can be cracked if you know how. It took me three calls to breach the defences of the City Cab Co. Hilda Bourke was the only woman who’d been driving for the Company two years back and she was still with them, on the road just then. I persuaded the base to get her to call at my place by promising to pay for her time — a taxi ride to nowhere.

While I was waiting I got my. 38 and ammunition out of their oilcloth wrapping and mated them. I put on a shoulder holster and tucked the gun away. A car horn sounded softly outside. I turned off the lights and went out to the cab. The driver was a stocky woman in her forties; blonde hair gleamed in the car’s interior light under her head scarf. She had a strong, tired face devoid of make-up.

‘Hilda Bourke?’ I opened the front passenger door.

‘That’s right. Mr Hardy?’ Her voice was pure Sydney, a slightly nasal drawl.

I got in. ‘I want to ask you a few questions about a fare you handled. I’ll pay you. I cleared it with your base.’

‘Stuff them, it’s a change. I might not remember anyway.’

‘You should, it was out of the ordinary — a tramp you took up to a big place in Rushcutters Bay.’

‘Jesus, you’re going back a bit.’

‘Yes, but you do recall it?’

‘Mm, pretty well. I waited for him and he gave me a tip — five bucks I think. He was pretty drunk.’ She said it apologetically, as if it was against the ethics of the job to take big tips from drunks. ‘Poor bugger,’ she went on, ‘I’ve thought about him since. I wonder what he wanted up there?’

‘I know what he wanted,’ I said. ‘What I’m interested in is where he came from.’

‘That’s easy. I took him back to where I picked him up, the Noble Briton pub.’

‘At the Cross.’

‘Right, little fare and a big tip like I said.’

‘He hailed you from the street?’

‘No I think there was a call from the pub. He looked pretty rough but had the street right. Sorry, I can’t recall it.’

‘That’s okay. Did he behave himself in the car?’

She shot me a look but she had no vanity. ‘Yeah, no chucking or burning smokes. He was a gentleman really, spoke well.’

‘He went into the pub when you dropped him?’

‘Like a shot.’

I gave her ten dollars.

‘Thanks, I hope that old codger’s not in trouble.’

‘Why d’you say that?’

‘You look like trouble to me, Mr Hardy. Hey, can I take you to the pub? You’ve paid.’

I shook my head, thanked her and got out. She u-turned and drove off. I coaxed the Falcon into life and drove off sedately towards the Cross.

They’ve gutted it of course, the Cross, stripped away nearly everything that made it a unique place. But coming up from the empty city and the quiet park, the Cross still had some glamour. It still reminded you that not everybody lived tidy and safe. There were still bodies for sale, gambling games older than civilisation, men-women and women-men, phoneys and genuine seekers after truth.

The Noble Briton is a survivor; it’s just out of range of the developer’s knife and looks defiant. A few tiles had peeled off the front, exposing the grey pitted cement beneath, but the 1930s beer advertisements were intact.

The public bar was like a thousand others. There were a few stools around the bar, a clear space near the wall-mounted TV set and some benches around the tiled walls. Two pool tables were tucked in near a dartboard. I ordered a beer from a thin, pale barmaid with an enormous, teased-up blonde hairdo. I sipped and looked the few early starting customers over. None looked like Henry Brain.

The barmaid teetered up and down behind the bar like a colt in a stall. She had on a see-through blouse, skin-tight black jeans and enormous heels. With the fairy-floss hair she must have topped six feet. I watched her with interest and she caught me watching.

‘You want something else, mister?’ Her voice was like a noise from a sheet-metal shop. I spun two fifty cent pieces on the bar.

‘Have a drink.’

‘Ta.’ She grabbed one of the coins in mid-spin and dropped it into a glass by the till. I spun the other coin and she plucked that up and dropped it into the Help the Blind tin. Charm having failed I fell back on professionalism. I showed her my licence to investigate.

‘I’m looking for a man. I understand he drinks here, or did.’

Her pencil-line eyebrows shot up. ‘Ooh, it’s like a movie, isn’t it?’

‘Not really,’ I said. ‘This is just a legal matter, nothing exciting. But I’m on expenses…’

‘What’s that mean?’ She flapped her hand impatiently at a customer at the far end of the bar who was holding up his glass.

‘Serve the man,’ I said, ‘I’ll tell you when you get back.’

I put the licence away and drank. The barmaid came back and leaned over me like a crane.

‘You was saying?’

‘I’m going to describe a man to you. See if it fits anyone you know.’

She nodded, dead keen. The hair flopped dangerously forward and I could see light through the top six inches. I put together the descriptions I’d been given and delineated Henry Brain. She let me finish, then bared her small, even teeth in a triumphant smile.

‘Got him, that’s Perry.’


‘Perry Mason, you know, the lawyer on TV? That’s what he’s called in here. He reckons he was a lawyer once and he can do the talk — gentlemen of the jury and all that. Course, the only way he’d get in court now would be to get thirty days. Yeah, Perry Mason, you remember.’

I did, on black and white television, played by Raymond Burr who bought an island in Fiji that I coveted. There was irony in it. Here, where there was a dream in every glass, Henry Brain was given high rank.

‘That’s the man,’ I said. ‘He was a lawyer. Will he be in tonight?’

‘I reckon. I’ve been here five years and he’s never missed except when he’s sick. He’ll be in around eight.’

I separated ten dollars from the thin roll and pushed it towards her. She made a pushing-back motion.

‘Keep it. Give it to Perry. He needs it more than me.’

‘I’ll have another beer then. You like him — Perry?’

She pulled the middy. ‘He’s okay. Doesn’t get stroppy and goes when it’s time. He’s okay.’

I sat over the beer and smoked a couple of cigarettes. It was just after eight when Brain came in. It was a warm evening but he was wearing the derelict’s overcoat. With some of them it’s their cupboards, their shelter, their address. The pub was half-full, with darts and one pool game going. Brain cranked himself up onto a stool and thrust an arm into his overcoat pocket. It disappeared to above the elbow. I went around and stood behind him.

‘Good evening Mr Brain. Can I buy you a drink?’

He lurched around and almost fell off the stool. I steadied him. The cloth of the coat was greasy with years of dirt, the arm felt like a broomstick wrapped in rags. I held him until he was firm on the seat.

‘Thank you sir, you are a gentleman.’ His voice was a ruin, a desecration of what had been a fine instrument. I ordered two double scotches from the barmaid. Brain raised a finger to her skinny back.

‘No ice, Eunice.’ He got his tongue around the words with difficulty.

‘Right Perry.’

Brain winced. ‘My nom de bar,’ he croaked. I smiled and we examined each other. I saw a gaunt wraith dressed in other people’s clothes. There was a feeling of incompleteness about him set up by the thinning hair and missing teeth. The hair had gone in patches giving him a piebald look and a few yellow stumps of teeth still sat stubbornly in his mouth. His faded eyes were watery and there were deep wrinkled pouches like walnuts hanging under them. The skin of his face was leathery and it wrinkled and sagged its way down his slack jaw and grizzled neck into the top of a dirty, collarless shirt.

What he saw didn’t seem to interest him and he fidgeted waiting for the liquor. His hands shook violently and attracted my attention. They were long and thin with blue veins showing through translucent skin. Unlike the rest of him they were scrupulously clean; the nails were trimmed and pink as though a scrub with a hard brush was part of his regular toilet. Otherwise he was battling to stay out of the gutter. A struggle was going on. There were signs of attempts at parting the sparse hair and his heavy, broken shoes had been rubbed up to a dull shine. But he was losing the fight, day by day.

Eunice put the drinks on the bar and I paid her. Brain lifted his glass to the light and smacked his lips.

‘Neat quality whisky,’ he rasped. ‘It’s the only way to drink. Cheers.’ He put half down in one swallow and carefully cupped his hands around the rest.

‘I didn’t catch your name dear boy.’

‘I didn’t give it. It’s Hardy, Cliff Hardy.’

‘Why are you hastening me towards the grave, pray?’

He sipped, still not looking at me. He must have known this day was coming. He’d held out a juicy bait to top people. Maybe he didn’t care or perhaps his brain was so eaten out by alcohol that he’d forgotten. Two years is a lot of booze in his league. I spoke quietly and carefully, striving for some intimacy in the noisy bar.

‘I want some information you were once prepared to sell, Mr Brain. I might be buying or I might be just asking.’

He looked at me shrewdly as if judging how much drink I’d be good for; nothing else mattered to him, his whole being seemed focused in on the glass in his shaking hands.

‘You talk in riddles dear boy.’ He took a sip. ‘I can’t claim to be a busy man, the desk is not littered with briefs, but please come to the point.’

‘You were married to Sir Clive Chatterton’s daughter Bettina,’ I said close to his grimy ear. ‘The marriage broke up, childless. Sir Clive’s widow claims you called on her two years ago. You spoke of a grandson and requested money… I don’t hear an objection.’

‘Ah.’ The sound came out slow and easy, oiled by the whisky. ‘So that old piece of carrion has sent you on an errand. You are an operative.’

The old-fashioned word touched me somehow, off-set the impatience I was beginning to feel. I showed the licence.

‘I don’t want to cause you trouble, Mr Brain, but Lady Catherine has developed an obsession about the child. I mean to find him, if he’s real.’

‘He may be dead,’ Brain said quietly and tossed off his drink. The words were my first firm evidence that the story was true. They had a quality, a substance, that convinced me.

‘I want to know, one way or the other.’

‘Is the noble lady prepared to be generous?’

‘To you? No, I shouldn’t think so. She’s not a generous or forgiving woman. For the man the sky’s the limit.’

He didn’t seem interested; he was concerned with his own sentiments and prospects. If the child was dead it wouldn’t touch him, nor did the old lady’s need. His own life was a tatter and to small rents in other people’s lives he was indifferent. Mending them didn’t signify.

‘Could you make the next an Irish whisky,’ Brain was saying to me. ‘I haven’t drunk Irish whisky in eons.’

The bar was nearly full. A few people were showing some interest in Brain and me, unwelcome interest.

‘I’ll buy a bottle of Irish if you like,’ I said quickly, ‘and we can continue our discussion somewhere else.’

He looked around the bar as if he was seeing it for the first time. Desire for the whisky shone in his reddened, bleary eyes like a beacon through fog.

‘I am tempted by your offer, intrigued you might say. I promise nothing however.’ He looked squarely at me for practically the first time. ‘I don’t suppose you could stretch your funds to the extent of two bottles of Australian whisky?’

I signalled to Eunice. She tripped over and took orders while looking down on the old man.

‘Is he treating you right Perry?’

‘Like a prince, dear Eunice. It’s been a long time since a handsome young man paid attention to me.’

‘Now, now, none of that. What’ll it be?’

‘Get me two bottles of Irish whisky,’ I said. ‘Jameson’s.’

She finished pulling the beers and dispensed them, then she leaned close to me. ‘I know youse can get them anyway,’ she said gratingly, ‘but will you do something for me?’

I was impatient: ‘What?’

‘Buy him some food too, I’ll give you a cut on the whisky.’

‘All right, all right, I will. Just get the whisky will you?’

She stalked off and came back with the bottles in brown paper. I paid and helped Brain off his stool. He never took his eyes off the bag and followed me like a dog. There was a fast food place a few doors from the pub and I bought him a pie and some roast potatoes. His skin was grey under the neon and he used his beautiful, white hands to shield his ruined face from the light. He eyed the food with distaste.

‘Muck, dear boy. You can’t expect me to eat that.’

‘You’ll eat it,’ I said grimly. ‘We’ve got talking to do and I don’t want you passing out on me.’

‘I thought it was altruism,’ he muttered.

‘No, pragmatism if you like.’

He looked sharply at me. ‘Are you intending to be pragmatic here?’

The mild night air was gritty with exhaust fumes and dust. The Cross was just getting into stride. The footpath was rippling with people, some buyers, some lookers.

‘No, we can talk in my car or my office. Both are close by.’ Something, some shred of dignity still clinging to him, made me go on: ‘Or at your place if you like.’

‘It so happens that I have a room, a modest place you understand, but my own. We might be more comfortable there. We will need glasses,’ he pointed at the bag. ‘Whisky like that needs glasses.’

‘Okay, where is it?’

‘In Darlinghurst, not far. We could take your car, I haven’t ridden in a car for some time.’ He scratched at the brown paper. ‘Perhaps… perhaps a small promise of things to come?’

‘No, the car’s this way.’

He trudged along beside me with his hands in the pockets of the too-large coat, holding its skirts in to him. The sound of his brogues scuffling the pavement depressed me. The thought of his room depressed me. I was riding a small wave of hope that he could point me to the heir to the Chatterton millions, but it was only a small wave. I was looking forward to the Jameson’s, too.


He ate the food as we drove. For all his protests he wolfed it and I heard him masticate and swallow every morsel. We were in Palmer Street when he spoke through a mouthful of potato.

‘Here, dear boy, just here.’

I pulled up outside a tumble-down terrace. We got out of the car and I locked it. Brain watched me.

‘Very wise,’ he said drily. ‘There’s no respect for property around here.’

The gate was missing and a makeshift plywood panel in the front door was flapping loose. The entrance hall stank of cooking and neglect. Brain started up the stairs then stopped and turned. He leaned over me like a gallows.

‘Don’t let the bottles clink,’ he whispered, ‘or we’ll have every denizen of this low house knocking on the door.’

I took a tighter grip on the bag and followed him. We went up two flights and down a passage to the back of the house. He dug into the coat and produced a key with a safety pin attached. He moved to put it in the lock, then drew back.

‘Open,’ he said. ‘Odd, I could swear I locked it.’ He said something in Latin. ‘Ovid,’ he informed me.

‘Open the door,’ I said.

He flicked on the light. ‘My God!’

The room was a mess; it couldn’t have been much to start with but now it was uninhabitable. The mattress on the old iron bed had been ripped apart; bits of stuffing were all over the room and tufts still floated in the air like grey snowflakes showing that the damage was recent. A few hundred books were part of the ruin. They were ripped and torn and strewn over the floor, bed, wash basin and chest of drawers. The drawers were gaping open; a couple had been smashed to matchwood. A wooden box about a foot square and six inches deep was lying upside down on the floor. Brain bent painfully and picked it up; the lock had been broken and the top hung crazily from a fragile hinge. Brain swore and poked around in the mess. He came up with a roll of moth-eaten paper.

‘My degree,’ he said.

I took a quick look at it. Henry Winston Brain had graduated with honours in Law in 1934 from the University of Sydney. Brain put the document carefully on the bed and began picking up books. He shook his head.

‘Ruined,’ he muttered, ‘ruined…’

I looked at some at random. There were legal works but also novels, poetry, drama. A nice old dictionary with a thumb index had been savagely dismembered. The search hadn’t been expert but looked ruthless and furious enough to have turned up anything hidden in the obvious places.

‘What were they after?’

Brain placed a long, thin finger beside his nose. ‘As you said, Mr Hardy, we have talking to do.’ He groped among the rubbish by the wash basin. ‘The glasses!’ He held up two streaked and stained glasses and examined them against the dim light. ‘One is cracked,’ he observed. ‘I shall drink from that, it’s only fitting that I should.’

I hauled up one of the bottles, opened it and poured.

‘Aren’t you going to clean up a bit?’

He accepted the whisky. ‘Many thanks. No, I shall move.’

That might have meant the searchers had what they came for or it might not. Perhaps what they wanted was in his head and he could see that they wouldn’t ask gently. I picked up the nearest book while I thought about it — an omnibus edition of Conan Doyle bought in the Charing Cross Road. Brain’s initials and surname were written inside in flowing purple ink — better days.

Brain raised his glass. ‘You bring me ill-luck Mr Hardy, only this compensates.’

‘Does anything else matter to you?’

‘Not much, not any more.’

‘Well it does to me. Your story about the child matters. Is it connected with this, do you think?’ I gestured at the mess.

‘Bound to be, dear boy. Nothing like this has happened to me for a quarter of a century. I’ve drunk in peace.’

‘You’ve done a good job of it. Why?’

He finished his drink and held out the glass. ‘I lost my calling, my vocation. I lost everything when I married that slip of a girl.’

‘She’s no slip now.’

A sound came from him that could have been a laugh. ‘Nor was she then. Such strength, such will.’ He drank. ‘You’ve seen her recently?’


‘How was the dear girl?’


He smiled. ‘As drunk as me?’

‘Not quite, different style, but headed the same way.’

‘God help the child.’

The remark struck the same confirming note as before. I leaned forward.

‘You’re sure there was a child Mr Brain?’

‘I’m sure. I have proof.’

I picked up my glass and drank. He watched me hawkishly. Expressions were hard to interpret on that desiccated face but this looked like triumph. There was some cunning in it too, maybe.

‘Are you sure you still have it?’

‘I’m sure Mr Hardy.’

‘What is it, the proof?’

He placed the finger along the nose again. ‘Ah no, dear boy. Less haste, we have arrangements to make.’

Maybe it was the whisky or just plain slow thinking. It suddenly struck me that I didn’t have a clear run in the game any more. Dully, I considered the angles. For me, interference from other parties unknown was a tough break. For Brain it could represent something much more serious.

‘Do you know who did this, Mr Brain?’

‘Don’t change tack,’ he said querulously. ‘I’m an old man and I have trouble concentrating. We must talk terms.’

‘There might not be any terms. Someone else wants to know what you know. He might not buy you liquor.’

He finished his whisky and I poured some more to underline the point.

‘Drink up while you can,’ I said.

‘Your attempts at intimidation are crude, Mr Hardy. I have little to live for. I’m not afraid to die.’

‘It’s the manner of dying,’ I said quietly.

He gulped some whisky. ‘True, true, you have a point. You think I’m in danger?’

‘I’m bloody sure of it. If I was you I’d go to Melbourne. Get a train. It’s summer, can’t be too bad down there.’

He mimed a shiver inside the coat. ‘Foul hole, Melbourne, a wasteland. No, I shall rely on you and Lady Catherine for protection.’

‘That might be a bit hard to arrange.’

‘I confess I can’t see why — supply and demand.’

‘Not that easy. I need some indication that you’re speaking the truth when you talk about proof. Protection is expensive.’

‘I know. My need is great. It would cost a fortune to rehabilitate me.’

I wondered what he meant — a drying out farm, hormones? It suggested a will to live, vulnerability, but I couldn’t see Lady C. footing the bill without something solid in return.

‘The proof will have to be good.’

‘It is, I assure you.’ He came close, too close; the stink was like standing in the middle of a street with a tannery on one side and a brewery on the other. I pulled back a bit but he grabbed my shoulder.

‘Look at this,’ he croaked. He pulled a small photograph from the depth of his overcoat pocket. I peered at it, trying to make out the detail. The picture showed two women against an indeterminate background. The photograph was poor quality and it was creased and grubby; the women’s features were indistinct. Brain pointed with his trim, clean fingernail.

‘That’s Bettina. See, she’s pregnant.’

It was hard to tell — maybe.

‘Who’s the other woman?’

‘A nurse. Look on the back.’

I turned the picture over. On the back in the same flowing purple hand was written: B, Nurse Callaghan, Blackman’s Bay. Brain snatched it back as I tried to get my hand around it.

‘Took it myself from hiding,’ he chuckled. ‘What do you think of that eh? Intriguing?’

‘Very,’ I said. ‘Is there more?’

‘In here,’ he tapped the side of his head. ‘Much more.’

‘Well…’ I began.

Brain hitched his trousers and scratched his crotch.

‘Nature calls sir, consider the evidence while I appease the gods

…’ He lowered the rest of his drink and walked unsteadily to the door. I heard his feet shuffling on the lino and a stumble when he reached the stairs. I sat and drank. The room was settling back into its old shape. There was a ragged curtain across the window which had dirt and cobwebs in its corners. The ceiling was mildewed and strips of paint hung from it like stalactites. I tidied some books and reached under the bed for a far-flung one. My hand touched something and I pulled it out — a travelling bag. It was slashed and the bottom had been ripped out but it had been new and expensive not so long ago. That set me to poking among the books; some, dated a few years back, were medium-pricey. Brain had had some money and I remembered his bankroll and wanted urgently to know where the money had come from. I went to the door and looked out into the gloom. I called his name and the house swallowed up the sound.

With the. 38 out I went down the passage and the stairs; the toilet was off the first landing giving out a dull gleam and smell of stale piss. I pushed the door open.

Henry Brain had had his last drink. He was sitting on the floor with his head resting against the bowl. A dribble of saliva dropped from his open mouth into the murky water. The back of his head was a soggy red pulp that had spread out and matted his hair and run into his ear. I went in, put the gun away, and let the door close behind me. There was barely room to squat on the seat with the knees drawn up, but it was enough space to die in. I bent over the body and went carefully through the pockets of his coat, shirt and trousers. I ran a finger around the lining but there was no photograph. The front of his pants were wet and the smell was strong. I eased away from the body and let it sag back the way it was. One of the clean, pale hands fell in a strange, crooked fashion — a finger seemed to be pointed at me accusingly.

I went back to Brain’s room, retrieved the whisky and smeared up my glass and the bag and the books I thought I’d touched. I left the house quietly, not letting the bottles clink.


It was trouble, lots of it, and too early. It would take no time at all to trace Brain back to the pub and to me. It was an hour’s work for a smart cop or even a dumb one. The question was, when would Brain’s body be found? If the Palmer Street house was full of alcoholics he mightn’t be missed until Saturday morning — there were probably other toilets in the house and wash basins. I might have twelve hours, I might have twelve minutes.

These profundities came to me as I drove around the streets of Darlinghurst. The comforts of home beckoned but the waves were up and it was no time to be out of the water. I stopped and called the Chatterton residence. Miss Reid answered in a voice full of annoyance but not sleep. I told her I had to speak to Lady C.

‘That’s impossible, Mr Hardy, quite impossible. She has retired for the night.’

‘Tell her who’s calling and that I said it was important.’

‘I tell you it’s out of the question. She takes two sleeping pills at ten o’clock. She’ll be sound asleep now.’

‘Wake her! A man’s dead.’

‘It might kill her.’ From the way she said it, it sounded as if she was considering the idea. The last thing I needed was for the old girl to peg out now. The phone sputtered.

‘Mr Hardy, Mr Hardy! Who is dead?’

‘No one you’d know.’ The words made me do a mental double-take. Maybe, just maybe.

‘Miss Reid,’ I said urgently, ‘do those files on Chatterton employees go right back?’

‘Yes, I believe they do. I haven’t concerned myself with them recently but my impression is that they go back quite a long way. Why?’

‘I’m on my way out there,’ I said. ‘Wait up for me, I want to go through those records.’

She almost wailed. ‘I’ve been up since six, it’s after eleven o’clock. Can’t it wait until morning?’

‘No, it has to be tonight.’

She was stubborn. ‘I’m not sure I’m authorised to let you look at those files,’ she said primly.

‘Listen lady,’ I grated, ‘you’ll be out on your ear if you don’t. I’ll take the responsibility. Be there with your bunch of keys.’

‘I don’t like your tone.’

‘That’s tough. I have to see those files tonight.’

She muttered something about melodrama and hung up. I skipped out to the car and got moving.

The Friday night revellers were out in fair strength. They came cruising up from the eastern suburbs to spend their money in the dirtier parts of Sydney and then purred back for their beauty sleep. The lights of the Volvos and Jaguars and Mercedes were mocking me as I hammered up to the Chattertons. The cars and their owners were safe and well insured, so were the boats that bobbed in the water gleaming under the moon. A soiled man dead in a slum house seemed remote from all this security and money, but the connections were there.

As I approached the Chattertons’ gates a small car swung out onto the road, moving fast. The car looked Japanese, the driver looked big, that was all I got. I drove up to the path that led to the house and got out. A second later I was pressed back against the door with the flesh creeping all over me: a big yellow dog was growling impressively and showing me his white teeth about two inches from my kneecap. Then a voice came from the porch.

‘Rusty! Down Rusty!’

Rusty! Carl or Fang surely, but down was where I wanted him.

‘Call him, Miss Reid, he makes me nervous.’

She did. The dog went up to her like a poodle; she spoke and it went off into the shadows beside the house.

I went up the steps. ‘Good protection.’

‘Yes, it’s necessary. There are many valuable things in the house.’

‘Get many night-time visitors?’

She hesitated a split second. ‘No.’

We went into the house and through the passages to the room I’d seen that morning. She handed me the keys to the filing cabinet.

‘I trust you won’t disturb anything.’

I looked her over. The tone was still severe, she was one of those people in the habit of saying cautionary things, usually because they’ve been spoken to themselves in that way often. But she was more obliging, or trying to be. I couldn’t smell any gin and her hair was in military order, but she exuded that glow people usually have after some sort of satisfying experience.

‘I was having some coffee to help me stay awake, would you care for some?’

‘Thank you, yes, black please.’

She nodded, almost approvingly, and went away. I opened one of the cabinets and started working through the files. They weren’t well kept — more than one person had done the job over the years and it showed in the arrangement. There were business records and papers relating to the management of earlier houses than this one. Bills paid and receipted went back forty years, so did shopping lists and bank statements. At the bottom of the second cabinet I found a folder which contained information on staff pre-war. The turnover in maids, cooks and gardeners was steady.

Miss Reid came back with the coffee and perched on the edge of the desk. It was an unusual posture for her, almost jaunty. Albie would have been surprised. I kept my finger in the file while I drank the coffee and then went back to it. Miss Reid watched me. I found it among the last few sheets. ‘CALLAGHAN, GERTRUDE’ was printed in neat capitals and a date, ‘8/5/33.’ This was when she’d come to work for the Chattertons as Bettina’s nurse, nanny or whatever. Two hand-written references were pinned to the sheet. One was from the matron of a country hospital testifying to Callaghan’s qualifications and competence; the other was from a doctor and expressed unqualified praise for her trustworthiness and abilities with children. Dr Alexander Osborn had a practice in Blackman’s Bay. I made notes from these testimonials and from the woman’s letter of application. Gertrude Callaghan was a spinster, born in Liverpool, England, in 1905. She left the Chattertons in June 1946 — her forwarding address was 11 Yancey Street, Blackman’s Bay.

I straightened up. Miss Reid was still sitting on the desk. She was looking tired but content.

‘Finished?’ she said. She let go a small, polite, well-covered yawn.

‘Nearly. I need the library.’

The old aggression flooded out. ‘You can’t go there. Lady Catherine is working on the memoirs in there, nothing must be disturbed.’

‘I won’t disturb anything. I have to look at a medical register. The Judge must have had it. I have it myself at home but I can’t go there.’

‘Why not?’

She came off the desk and moved towards the door; I herded her on and she opened it.

‘It’ll sound melodramatic, Miss Reid,’ I whispered, ‘but if I go home the police might be there and if they are they’ll arrest me.’

She was moving, keeping me at a distance. ‘What for?’

‘Murder. One I didn’t do.’

‘Who did?’ she gasped. ‘I didn’t… don’t believe you.’

I didn’t reply, just kept moving her along and we ended up at the library as I’d hoped. Miss Reid pushed open one of the high, heavily carved doors and fumbled for the light. When it came on it showed a big room with a high ceiling; two large windows were covered by heavy curtains. There was a long desk with papers laid out in neat bundles and some freshly sharpened pencils lined up.

Books dominated the room; there were thousands of them in cedar cases from floor to roof and there were two ladders on wheels ready to go. I thought of Henry Brain and his books in piles on the floor.

‘Is this catalogued?’ I asked.

‘Yes.’ She pointed to a wooden cabinet in one corner. I went over and thumbed through the cards. The medical directory was listed and numbered. I read the numbers on the shelves and climbed the ladder. The Judge had six copies going back as far as 1930, the most recent was 1975.

Dr Alexander Osborn was listed: born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1899, educated in the same city; medical training interrupted by two years in the army; served in France and Africa, rank of Captain. Osborn was a P amp; O ships’ doctor in the twenties and settled in Australia in 1929. Since 1939 he had had a practice in Blackman’s Bay. If he was still there what he wouldn’t know about the place wouldn’t be knowable. I noted the address and put the directories back.

‘All ship-shape,’ I said to Miss Reid.

‘You looked pleased with yourself.’

I was surprised and not pleased. ‘Do I? I shouldn’t be, this is just the start. But I’ve started to earn your boss’s money.’

‘I suppose that means something,’ she said acidly. ‘I wonder if I could go to bed now?’

I could have said something smart but didn’t. I don’t always. I wasn’t sure how to handle her. She probably didn’t know what I’d been hired to do, but there was her park assignation to consider and the half-lie I’d caught her in that night.

It seemed like the right time to do some work on her. She moved to open the door but I took hold of her arm.

‘Don’t touch me,’ she snapped.

‘I’d like to know what you plan to do about Rusty.’

‘Oh.’ There was relief in the sound. ‘I’ll call him.’

‘Is that what you do when your boyfriend visits? I mean the big guy in the blue car, the one Lady Catherine forbids you to see.’

‘I see who I like. Get out!’ She was a sabre fighter not a fencer; it was all beat-down-the-guard and thump for her. I decided to play the same way.

‘What’s his game, Miss Reid? Is he a chauffeur, a footman, what?’

The slur got straight to her. ‘He’s a property developer,’ she spat. ‘He makes more in a day than you’d scratch in…’

She knew it was a mistake and she hated herself, the hand that came up to her mouth almost delivered a slap. I let go her arm and opened the door.

‘Thank you Miss Reid,’ I said. ‘Be sure to call the dog.’

I heard her do some heavy breathing that seemed to characterise her anger; she didn’t call the dog and my flesh crept until I had my bum safely on the seat of the car.

I wanted a drink, a shower and a sleep. I had the drink, of Jameson’s Irish whisky. I still wanted the shower and sleep. Instead I drove south and stopped at the first open coffee bar. I drank two cups of black coffee and looked at the posters of Greece on the walls. Greece, that’d be nice. I like ouzo and I could run off the fatty food along the beach. I could lie in the sun, find a girl and learn Greek in bed. I pulled myself back to the here and now. For a trail thirty years old and not fresh lately it wasn’t so bad. But whoever had taken the photograph from Brain would be on the trail of the Callaghan woman too. If she was still alive. It was time for some night driving.

I paid for the coffee and thought again about a Greek island. Maybe I’d get a bonus if I found young Chatterton. I put my notebook and. 38 in the glovebox of the car and locked it. My jacket went on the seat along with three rolled cigarettes and the half-empty bottle. I got petrol and oil and water for the Falcon and told it we were going south and that it’d have a few hills to climb.


Blackman’s Bay is on the coast, about a hundred and fifty miles south of Sydney. It’s at the mouth of a river and was once a whaling port. After that it kept on with deep sea fishing for export, local fishing and tourism. I’d been through the place a few times and liked the look of it. I remembered it as a good-looking little town with a long timber and iron bridge over the river. At a pub a mile or so upstream I’d eaten some memorable oysters. Not a Greek island, but then I wasn’t on holiday.

I drove down the Princes Highway and took the freeway that skirts Wollongong and Port Kembla. The steelworks were a glowing, flame-spurting delirium too close for comfort. I hadn’t been out of the city in a long time, and south of the smoke and steel I began to feel some benefit from the drive and the sense of space around me. The Falcon coughed and protested on the hills. It was adapted to the harsh, stop and start grind of city driving. I nursed it. The air tasted cleaner by the mile and drunks on the road thinned out the further south I went. I’d smoked the cigarettes and now I took a careful pull on the bottle. The clean air blew into my face sharp and fresh and I felt good.

It was a clear night; the road slid down to the coast and the stars went on forever out to sea. I hit the Blackman’s Bay bridge sometime around 3.00 a.m. The planks rattled as I passed over them and I thought I could feel a slight swinging motion in the bridge. The main street was quiet; there were no all-night joints and most of the shops still used ordinary electric light which was switched off. A few neon tubes glowed prophetically in signs and windows. There was an extra service station and a shop or two, otherwise the town didn’t seem to have changed much. I drove down to the park near the beach where there was a town map on a board the way there always is in these places.

I located Yancey Street and went back to the car. Call it intuition, call it experience, but I was confident that she still lived there. There was no reason she should but I had a feeling I was dealing with something frozen in time and space. The nurse would still be there and so would the doctor. I realised I’d forgotten to check the doctor’s address and I went back to the board. A big wave lifted up and crashed on the beach and I could hear the bridge creaking in the light wind. I took a few steps onto the sand and looked out to sea. I could make out a few lights moving slowly a long way out. Off to the left a cliff dropped sharply down to the water. For no reason I thought of it as a jumping-off place for suicides. Suddenly I didn’t want to disturb the old ghosts, didn’t want to check on whether people still lived where they had once lived and knew about things that happened thirty years ago. I wanted a future, I didn’t want to rake over a painful past. I wished I was on the ship and at sea. I shook the thought off and went back to the car.

The roads threaded up behind the town into the hills. I bore left at a crossroad; Yancey Street was an unpaved track with no town lighting. I crept down it trying to pick up its features in the headlights. There were only a few houses as far as I could tell from gateposts and signboards and they were located well back from the track. Number eleven was identifiable by a sign painted on a handsome gum near a bend in the road. There were no houses opposite and it seemed to be flanked by vacant lots. There was a lot of pampas grass along the front boundary and no welcoming lights winking beyond it. If I’d been an old lady I wouldn’t have felt secure there; I was a middle-aged man with a middle-sized gun and I still didn’t feel secure.

I got the gun from the glove box and a torch and locked up the note book and the spare ammunition. The trunk of the gum tree was broad and pale and reassuring in the beam of the torch. I put the car keys on top of the offside front wheel and moved towards Nurse Callaghan’s abode. It was no time to go calling on an old lady, but I could poke around, get the feel of the place. And some old ladies get up very early in the morning, especially in the country.

The light danced over the springy grass and picked up a straggling track where vehicles had brushed Nature aside. I started up the incline, flicking the light to each side and bringing it back to the rough drive. Away down the hill the sea moved convulsively. Up here the only thing moving was me. Everything thickened in front of me suddenly and I realised that the track had taken a turn. I rounded the bend and was pulled up by a shape looming in front of me. I swung the torch, got an impression of shape, a car, and colour, blue, and then the starry heavens fell in on me. Pain sketched a searing yellow and red diagram in front of my eyes, all zigzags and angles, and then it blacked out and so did I.

When I came out of it a salty seaside dew had settled on me. My clothes and hair were moist and my skin was tacky and cold. It was still dark but the sky was lightening over what had to be the east. It all swam around when I lifted my head and I crunched dirt between aching teeth. Everything ached. I stretched out my hand and felt about in a wide arc. The torch was still there and still working. The car was gone. It had passed over me or around me — I was still in one piece. I pulled myself up and stood swaying, getting my bearings. I began to walk up towards the house which someone hadn’t wanted me to visit — not before they’d left, anyhow. It couldn’t be good. Daylight was seeping in, a couple of birds started up singing and I swore at them. My head hurt.

The house was a modest fibro-cement job that had been reasonably well looked after. A garden bed running across the front of it had had loving care. It was a showpiece of pruned rose bushes and other flowers that didn’t get that way on their own.

The house was on three-foot brick pillars and I looked under at intervals as I skirted round. Nothing moved under the house and I couldn’t hear anything moving inside. I went to the front door, knocked quietly and waited. Nothing. The door was locked. I went round to the back; a flywire screen had a tear in it near the door handle. I reached through and turned. I went into a small enclosed porch cluttered with gardening tools and fishing tackle. I went through a kitchen which was tidy and neat into a short passageway with two doors off it. The door on the left let into a sitting room; in the dawn light I could make out a fireplace, some easy chairs, a television set. There was a low table with a pile of plastic-jacketed library books on it.

The other door opened onto a bedroom. An old woman was lying on her back on the big bed, her hands were stretched out on the cover with the palms up. I cleared my throat and knocked on the door jamb. She didn’t move. I went closer. The gardening and the fishing and the TV and the reading were all over for her. She was dead.

There was no sign of violence on her face or in the room; the only unnatural thing was the position of her hands. I looked closely at her face but her eyes seemed to have closed naturally and the light beside the bed was soft enough to have been a night light. The bed cover was smooth but not too smooth. I went back to the kitchen and looked at the pile of bills on the spike — they covered the usual things and were made out to Gertrude Callaghan. I looked at the tear in the screen door but if there’s a way to tell whether fine plastic-mesh has been cut recently I don’t know it.

Back in the bedroom I stood at the end of the bed and wondered if she’d died naturally or not. It seemed unlikely that she had and I felt guilty as if I’d brought this on her. It wasn’t true of course; totally innocent victims are few, but that’s how I felt. She was an impressive-looking old person with snow-white hair and a strong, intelligent face. The signs were around of an active and meaningful old age that should have ended better. I read somewhere about some people — Indians I think — who used to put their problems to the newly dead. I think they arranged the corpse in such a way that its head or arm could move involuntarily and a man with special powers would interpret the movements. I looked down at the old nurse.

‘Did Bettina Chatterton have a son?’ I asked quietly.

Not a hair stirred.

‘Is he still alive?’

Nothing. I’d have to do it the hard way. I searched the place thoroughly — drawers, cupboards, books, floor coverings — for evidence of a connection between the nurse and the Chattertons after 1946. There was nothing. I found the Judge’s reference which gave Gertrude a good character and the documentation of her employment, all on the coast, over the following twenty years. There were photographs showing how the Liverpool girl had turned into the nurse and the old gardener and fisherwoman but nothing pointing to a grandson for the late Sir Clive. There were two things of interest: a flock of intimate notes, spanning three decades, from Dr Osborn to Nurse Callaghan and signs that someone had gone through the place before me.

It was almost daylight when I left the house but the sky was overcast and a thin fog was hanging around the tops of the trees. I went down the track and poked around in the grass until I found my gun. Nothing was stirring in Yancey Street except the birds. My head still hurt. I touched the spot and felt dried, caked blood. I was getting less presentable by the hour but there was no one around to notice. Everything was quiet and serene like Nurse Callaghan sleeping the last sleep.


When I’d cleared Yancey Street and made a few turns I stopped to take stock of things. The notebook was still in the glove box and the lock was intact. It was more than I could say for myself. My head needed a dressing and I needed a shave. That was what showed; my teeth were scummy from a day’s drinking and my body was stiff and sore from lack of sleep — lying like a log for a couple of hours in wet grass doesn’t count. My head ached fiercely. I looked at the whisky and shuddered. Then I salvaged a couple of aspirin out of the rubbish on the back seat and swilled them down with the whisky. I almost gagged but I grabbed the steering wheel and hung on to everything. After a minute or two I didn’t feel any worse, maybe even better. Time to tackle Dr Osborn.

He was in front of his house, bending to pick up a newspaper. He wore a checked dressing gown and the white trousers of striped cotton pyjamas flopped around his ankles. He bent like an old man, stiffly and slowly, but he bent. I walked over and called out something polite. He looked in my direction but I had the feeling that he couldn’t see me. I reached the gate and called out again.

‘Dr Osborn.’

‘Yes, wait a minute.’ There was still a faint Scots tang in the words despite fifty years of exposure to Australian speech. He moved slowly down the path towards me holding the rolled-up newspaper in his hand. I waited by the gate and watched his face. A certain blankness was in it until he was about ten feet away, then interest came into his eyes. He fished out a pair of spectacles from the dressing gown pocket and hooked them on.

‘Yes young man?’

‘I have to talk to you doctor, about Gertrude Callaghan.’

‘You’ll do me the favour of telling me who you are.’

‘I’m sorry — my name is Hardy. I’m a private investigator from Sydney. Does the name Chatterton mean anything to you?’

‘You’ll not be referring to the poet?’

‘No, not the poet, the Judge.’ I rattled the gate a fraction. ‘Can I come in and ask you a few questions?’

‘Perhaps. You mentioned Gertrude. What of Gertrude?’

‘She’s dead, doctor. She died this morning. I came from Sydney to see her but I didn’t make it in time. That’s why I’m here.’

Emotional control of the kind that is generations deep fell away from him in a split second. He clutched at the gate and the newspaper fell; I held his arm to steady him and we stood there like father and son mourning a wife and mother. I opened the gate with my free hand and helped him up the path towards the house. He was a portly man with a weatherbeaten face. His eye sockets were sunken and surrounded with dark, puckered skin as though a stain was seeping out of the eyes into the tissue. Flesh sagged on his cheeks but his chin and neck were firm; it was as if he’d aged selectively, in patches.

The house was a big, plain weatherboard, painted white with a glassed-in verandah running along three sides. I eased him up three steps and across to a cane chair. He sat down stiffly, like an old horse sinking to its knees for the last time.

‘Can I get you something doctor?’

He spoke slowly and remotely, as if from far away. ‘I was making coffee.’

‘I’ll get it.’ I went into the house and through a couple of well-ordered rooms to a neat, bright kitchen. I collected mugs, milk and sugar and took the pot off the stove. When I got back to the verandah Osborn had straightened up a little in the chair, lifted his head and seemed to be looking through the window to a far distant point. I poured a black coffee for him and he nodded and took it. I made one for myself and sat down opposite him.

‘I’m sorry to hit you with it like that.’

He seemed not to hear me. ‘Forty years,’ he said. He moved his head and looked directly at me. ‘It was her, you’re sure?’

‘Yancey Street,’ I said. ‘A handsome old lady, white hair.’

The coffee slopped and he set the mug down before covering his eyes with his hand. I drank some coffee and waited. After a minute or so he made an effort, palmed tears from his face and drank the coffee. He didn’t look at me but pulled himself up out of the chair.

‘Excuse me,’ he said. He walked slowly through into the other room and I heard him lift the phone and dial. There was silence and then the sound of the phone being put down. I poured more coffee and sipped it while he resumed his chair.

‘No answer,’ he said. ‘I can’t just leave her there, all alone.’

‘I’m sorry doctor, I’ve got the living to consider.’

‘Yes. You’re a detective you said? A policeman?’

‘No, I’m a private detective. I’m sorry about Nurse Callaghan.’

‘Nurse, Sister, Matron,’ he said softly. ‘The most wonderful woman.’ I drank some more coffee and he watched me critically.

‘You should put milk and sugar in it,’ he said. ‘I’d guess you were a drinker, a drinker with an empty stomach. Your metabolism needs something to fuel it.’

‘I’ve also been hit on the head,’ I said defensively. I leaned forward to give him a look. He put down his cup and eased the hair gently aside. I brought my head up and he looked directly into my eyes.

‘Nasty,’ he said. ‘A possible concussion. You should be at a hospital. I’m afraid I don’t practise any more.’

‘You did though, until recently.’

‘And how would you know that?’

‘From the medical register.’

‘You’ve been researching then. You’re right, I retired two years ago. You should go to the hospital, there’s a good one here.’

‘Maybe later.’ I sipped some coffee. ‘I want to ask you about Gertrude Callaghan and things that happened here thirty years ago.’

‘Do you now? You come here bleeding and smelling of spirits and you ask me that. How do I know you didn’t kill Gertrude?’

‘Would I have come here and told you about her if I had?’

‘Perhaps not,’ he said wearily. ‘But I doubt I have anything to tell you.’

‘I think you do. Thirty years is a long time but I need information and you’re the man that knows where the bodies are buried.’

He winced and a sharp breath came out of him; he tried to cover it by lifting his cup to his mouth.

‘Just an expression doctor. Why does it startle you?’ He didn’t answer and I pressed on. ‘I’ll dig for it doctor. I’ll be working in the dark and things will just have to fall out as they may. It doesn’t have to be that way though.’

‘What are you saying?’

He was good, very good. Without trying he’d got me to say more than I meant to while he hadn’t volunteered a damn thing himself. I had to plunge on with my uncertain knowledge and try to flush him out. I had hints, clues and guesses and just one piece of hard information on him — knowledge of his feelings for Gertrude Callaghan.

‘I’ve seen a photograph of Nurse Callaghan with a pregnant woman taken down here. The photograph was authentic and I’ve identified the locality.’ This was a lie but it seemed like a safe one. ‘My interest is in that woman specifically and the child, I’m not concerned with the wider issues.’ I chose the words carefully but they still sounded thin.

‘May I see this photograph?’ he said.


‘And why not?’

‘It’s a crucial piece of evidence and I don’t carry it around with me.’

He leaned back in his chair and drank some coffee. ‘You mean you don’t have it,’ he said confidently.

‘The man who had it is dead. He was murdered, probably by the same person who killed Nurse Callaghan.’

The smugness left his face. ‘Murdered! You didn’t say that before. No, not Gertrude. Did she…’

‘Tell me anything? I’m not going to answer that doctor, it’s time for you to open up a little.’

I finished the coffee, thought about a cigarette and decided against it. It wasn’t a time for betraying weaknesses. He sat back further in the chair and his eyes seemed to sink deeper into those cavernous, dark-rimmed sockets. He looked like a man letting his mind run back. I waited. When he spoke it was carefully and slowly with the Scots accent more pronounced.

‘I’m going to talk in generalities Mr Hardy, at least to start with. Do you understand? A lot of reputations and lives, good lives, are at stake in this. A lot of harm could be done.’

I nodded.

‘Let me say for a start that I know nothing about anyone by the name of Chatterton. I might have had some dealings with a Chatterton but if so I’ve forgotten. I’m an old man and I have forgotten many names.’

‘But you remember some?’

‘Aye, and with good reason.’ He ran a hand over his head and plucked at the dewlaps on his face. ‘This is hard for me. I’m not sure I’m doing the right thing. I know nothing about you.’ He groaned. ‘Tell me about Gertrude, was she… hurt?’

‘She was in bed. I didn’t see any signs of violence but someone had searched her house, probably the same person that hit me. Something happened up there.’

He suddenly looked every day of his age. Gertrude Callaghan was woven into his past and he wanted to talk about it, but secrecy had become a habit.

‘You seem to be having some trouble starting your story doctor,’ I said. ‘Let me help a little. There was an establishment of some sort down here thirty years ago, a place where women came to have babies. Or not to have them. I assume it was a well-regulated place. I’m not a moralist.’

‘I’m glad to hear it. Myself, I’m a radical, a reformer and a radical. I am a moralist you might say.’ His eyes, which had been focused on my face, drifted away. It looked like he was going into the mind-cranking stage again. I was impatient but judged it better to let him set the pace. I leaned forward to get some more coffee. He didn’t notice.

‘I love this place Mr Hardy, these people, I’ve been here nearly fifty years. Did you know that?’

I nodded, took milk.

‘I went back to Edinburgh once, detested it! I found the Scots ungenerous and narrow. Well, that’s by the way. Do you know what used to be the single greatest cause of human misery in a place like this?’

I said ‘No’, which was true.

He leaned forward and tapped me on the knee. ‘Unwanted children. Forced marriages and unwanted children. It was behind most of the crime, nearly all the drunkenness, most of the trouble.’

‘A problem,’ I agreed. ‘Still is, I suppose.’

‘It’s different now, more information, better methods. And there’s some support for the girls bringing up the babies.’

‘Come down to cases doctor,’ I said gently.

‘Aye. I ran a clinic here for twenty years, abortions and births, adoptions. Proud of it.’

‘It was a secret though.’

‘It was. A secret entrusted to a few.’

‘Nurse Callaghan?’

‘Helped me, the whole time. Wonderful woman, she believed in the work.’

It was more than that and I tried to keep the knowledge out of my response. Unsuccessfully.

‘I was unhappily married,’ he said simply. ‘A daughter died in childbirth with no one to help her.’

It explained a lot but I wasn’t happy with the drift of his account. Too much flavour of abortion in it; abortion wasn’t what I needed.

‘How many abortions did you perform doctor?’


‘How many births and… adoptions?’


‘It’s the adoptions I’m interested in.’

‘Both things were illegal.’

‘I don’t imagine anyone cares now.’

He misinterpreted me and flared. ‘But I must explain what went wrong, how my ideals were perverted.’

The craving overtook the tact; I pulled out my tobacco and made a cigarette. I said ‘Go ahead’ more roughly than I’d intended.

He glanced at me sharply, annoyed, as though I wasn’t worthy to be his confessor. But he was too far into confession to stop. ‘I did this community a great service for twenty years. A law-abiding community. Blackman’s Bay, very low incidence of violence, disruption. But they wouldn’t let me be.’

‘They? The locals?’

‘No, the others, from Canberra and Sydney. Men and lasses, some terrible stories I can tell you.’

We seemed to be moving into the right area. I blew smoke away from him and juggled the ash.

‘What did they do, blackmail you?’

‘Aye, and worse. Terrible place Sydney, full of the lowest people.’ He looked hard at me and I felt I had the harbour bridge growing out of my head and Kings Cross painted on my face. I knew I had a day’s beard and a very dirty shirt.

‘How do I know I can trust you?’ he said harshly. Some of the power he must have had when younger suddenly seemed to flow back into him. ‘You’re a man for hire.’

‘Aren’t we all,’ I said, then I corrected quickly. ‘I’m only partly for hire. There are things I won’t do. I don’t cause unnecessary pain.’

‘A fine speech,’ he sneered. ‘Who judges what is necessary, you?’


‘Aye. I thought so. That won’t do. What are your standards? What would you know of a lifetime’s dedication to an ideal?’

Not much, I thought, and thank God for it. Ideals should change like everything else. But he felt he had got some sort of moral and ethical drop on me and in a funny way I felt it too. Perhaps it was the lack of sleep.

‘You come down here out of nowhere,’ he went on, ‘telling about my oldest friend. You could be lying.’

He was pacing up and down the verandah now; his slippers flapped on the floor and his pyjamas swished around his white, bony shanks. His voice became more vehement as he moved as if the pacing was giving him strength and purpose.

‘Nurse Callaghan is dead,’ I said dully. ‘You’ll get news of that soon enough.’ I fingered my cut head. ‘This is real.’

He snorted, still pacing. ‘You could have done it yourself.’

‘You’re going in circles doctor, a minute ago you accepted that she was dead…’

‘Don’t you dare criticise my logic. I’ll thank you to know that I’m in full possession of my senses.’

I doubted it. He was getting more excited by the second and trying to construct defences against me. I’d lost him, just like that, in a sentence or two.

‘I’ll say no more Mr Hardy, and I’ll be obliged if you’d go. I have nothing to say to you.’

I spoke quietly, trying to calm him down. ‘That’s not true doctor. I must know more. I know a good deal already. It’s vital to my investigation…’

‘You’re threatening me!’ His voice rose and cracked. ‘I won’t stand for it. You come here and threaten me.’ He whipped across the floor and through the door into the house. I stood up wondering what my next move should be. He came back and he wasn’t alone — he had a double-barrelled shotgun for company and he levelled it at my chest.

‘Go Mr Hardy.’ He jerked the gun at the door. ‘And don’t come back.’

I make a point of not arguing with old men waving shotguns. I went.


There was a telephone booth on the street three houses along from Osborn’s place. I called his number and when he answered I dropped the phone, ran back down the street and jumped over his fence. I sprinted up to the side of the house and then bent low to keep under the windows. Osborn was still holding the phone when I got to the back part of the house. I risked a peep up and saw him put it down, dial, listen and hang up. He moved around for a few minutes and I was wondering how to handle it if I heard paper being torn or smelled it being burned when I heard drawers opening and closing in the room nearest me. I heard him grunt the way men do when they bend over to put on their shoes. Then he left the room and I heard a door at the back of the house slam. I sneaked down and hung an eye around the corner: Dr Osborn, minus his shotgun, was heading for his garage.

I went back the way I’d come. I’d left my car around the nearest corner from the doctor’s house out of old habit. I drove back to a point where I could see his gate and watched a green Cortina roll down the drive and head south for the hills. I tailed him from as far back as the traffic would allow. Osborn drove sedately, like a man used to motoring in a more leisurely age. I hung back on the highway which wasn’t easy because most cars were passing him. We followed the coast for a few miles and then swung inland. The Cortina toddled along off the bitumen and up an unmade road into the hills. I stopped and let him get well ahead, then I crawled up after him. The road climbed steeply but straight so he couldn’t wind round on top of me. I hung back behind the drift of his dust cloud. Suddenly the road got rougher and another track ran into it on the left. I stopped and examined the ground; it looked as if nothing had gone straight on for a while and as if the Cortina had turned left. Hardy of the 5th Maroubra Scout Troop.

I pulled the car off the track, got the gun out of the glove box and started to follow the tyre marks in the dust. The track was steep and I had to stop for breath twice. I stumbled once, jarred my leg, and sent waves of pain curling and dumping inside my skull. The morning was warm, I sweated and the handgrip of the. 38 became wet and slippery. Each time the track took a turn I went into the rough at the side and worked through so as to get a look at the road ahead, but each time it was quiet and still except for the noise and movement of the forest birds. After about ten minutes walking the trees thinned out and the ground levelled. I used the cover of the trees to approach a clearing extending over an acre or so on a stretch of flat ground.

In the middle of the clearing, spaced about forty feet apart, were two crumbling brick pillars that would once have been chimneys. Some blackened timber was piled off to one side. I watched from behind a tree as Osborn came into the clearing carrying a pile of branches. He threw them down near the old chimney closest to me, squatted, and began working on the bricks of the old fireplace. He pulled them out and piled them up beside him. Then he reached into the cavity and hauled out a box about the size of a beer carton. He stood up and slapped his pockets. I stepped out and levelled the pistol at him.

‘Keep your hands still, doctor. Move towards me slowly.’

He started and stopped the slapping movement. Then he looked down at the box and bent over.


He was on his knees now by the box. ‘It would be hard for you to explain, Mr Hardy, killing an old man. And not a bad solution for me. I think I’ll keep on.’

I was almost close enough to kick him. ‘I wouldn’t kill you doctor, just hurt you a bit. It’d solve nothing. Now get away from that bloody box!’

He straightened up and stood there rock still. I looked over the blackened earth. A couple of the building’s stumps still stuck up stubbornly through the weeds. I glanced about for the shotgun but couldn’t see it. The branches by the bricks were light with feathery leaves, tinder dry. I nudged the box with my toe.

‘Your records doctor?’


‘I’m surprised. Was it discreet to keep them?’

His old face turned up and he looked affectionately around at the ruin and the overgrown land.

‘It was my life’s work,’ he said softly. ‘I thought that someday I could write it up, publish it. Opinion has changed, it could be done soon.’

‘Maybe so,’ I said. ‘I’m not going to stop you. I just need some information from those records myself. You can do what you like with it after that.’

‘You don’t understand.’ His voice was thin and strained. Pleading was foreign to him and he was having trouble getting the sound right. ‘That would be a violation of my trust. I can’t allow it.’

‘You can’t stop me. I’m the one with the gun now. Move aside doctor, I don’t want to hurt you.’ I bent down and examined the box; it was metal, heavy, but unlocked. The lid came up stiffly and revealed rows of file cards, neatly packed.

‘This was the place? The clinic?’ I tried to let a little kindness into my voice and I let the pistol drop a bit, not too far.

‘Yes, this is it. This is where I did my life’s work. Later the vandals had their fun. All my memories are here… Gertrude… my daughter…’ He pointed. ‘You can see the ocean from over there. I’ll show you.’

He set off for the far edge of the clearing and I followed. We pushed through some undergrowth and went up a steep track which led to a broad, flat rock washed pale and pitted by the weather. I lost sight of him for a second as I moved forward to step up onto the rock. I stopped, peering ahead, and that saved me — a branch of the tree beside the rock came slashing towards my face like a stockwhip. I ducked under it, side-stepped up and moved along the edge of the rock away from the tree. He saw me and threw something. It missed and he stumbled towards the edge of the rock like a sleepwalker. I dropped the box and went after him fast; he was tensed for the jump when I locked my hand around his upper arm and jerked him back and down hard.

I was off balance and fell and he came down half on top of me. I rolled away and he flopped on the rock winded and gasping like a landed fish. I lifted him and carried him across to the tree where I propped him up. Then I recovered the metal box and sat down on it. We looked east: the water was a fair way off but that made it more impressive. The tree tops flowed out towards the band of blue; a light wind was coming off the water and it moved the upper branches about and reached us with a tang of salt water and eucalyptus. He gazed out over the scene possessively — I felt like an intruder at a shrine.

‘My daughter’s ashes are scattered out there. She loved this place dearly.’

‘We have to talk doctor.’

‘What is there to talk about? You have the records, took them by force. You’ll use them for your own corrupt ends. I’m old and this trouble will kill me. But that’s fitting, that my life’s work should finish me off. I’m sorry about the branch and the shotgun. I’ve never harmed anyone.’

He seemed to be raving, losing his grip under the spell of the place and the pressure of events. I wanted him in control, as an ally if possible.

‘There are those who would think,’ I said softly, ‘that you’ve killed many times.’

He glared at me, his tired old eyes shining out of the beaten flesh around them. ‘Fools,’ he said coldly. ‘Fools and hypocrites. I have evidence that lives are wrecked by unwanted children, and saved by abortion.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I followed them through do you see? I kept notes on what people did — those who were forced into marriages they didn’t want and those who were free to develop. You’d be surprised, Mr Hardy, if you knew who were some of the fathers of children born and aborted. I know.’

‘Jesus. You mean you got all that stuff from the mothers? You’ve got names and dates?’

‘Yes indeed.’

The enormity of it washed over me slowly. The box was a powder keg of secrets. He’d mentioned post-war Canberra and Sydney and hinted at big names. The thought flickered in the back of my mind that the cards would be better burnt but I let that go. I had a job to do and I was very, very curious.

‘You appear to be struck dumb, Mr Hardy.’

I was suddenly aware of the gun and stuck it in my belt. It seemed like a ridiculous toy; I wanted the box in my hands.

‘Come on doctor, we have to find a way out of this mess.’

He followed me off the rock. ‘Mess? What do you mean?’

‘You can’t be that innocent. Those records are dynamite.’


‘Men like to father their own children for one thing. It’s a quirk I’ve noticed. They don’t like having it done for them.’

‘Yes, well, I know of many…’

‘Don’t tell me.’

‘I knew it was… sensitive, but that’s why I kept it out here, partly why. I used to drive out and do some work on the cards, add things. But I always thought of it as scientific data.’

‘I think of blackmail and other things.’

‘But it’s so long ago, twenty years and more.’

‘Memories are longer, suspicion doesn’t age.’

‘You’re a philosopher, Mr Hardy.’

We went down the rabbit track to the clearing. The air was warm and pungent with forest scents. It would be a fine place for a picnic with nice food and cold wine and a good spot for making love on some trodden down bracken. We got clear of the trees and the sight of the stark, lonely chimneys brought me back to the business which had nothing to do with picnics and not much with lovemaking in the bushes. I talked to him and he listened. He did some talking himself and I tried to respond to his descriptions of the clinic, as he called it, and how he and Gertrude Callaghan had handled the work. There was a touch too much of ‘moral rehabilitation’ in it for my taste, but he was talking of other times, when illegitimacy could be a life-long curse and divorce court judges were like priests of the Inquisition.

He leaned against the Cortina and looked at me through narrowed, sceptical eyes.

‘And now?’

‘Now you drive me back to my car and we both go back to your house. You help me find what I’m looking for in these cards, if it’s here. I make some notes and hand the whole box of tricks back to you, with some advice.’

‘And that is?’

‘Make up your mind to write up your findings soon or turn the whole lot over to a library or an archive. You can do that doctor. And you can put a time bar on it, say twenty-five years. You leave a key to it all if that’s needed and it’s off your hands. When the time comes some student will dig into it. Your work will get its due although you’ll be dead and gone.’ A shiver went through me as I spoke and I wondered whether I’d invoked some god of ill-luck and I might be dead and gone myself in that time, or sooner.

We got in the car. ‘I’m inclined to believe that you’ll do as you say,’ he said.

‘Right,’ I said. It was time to stop monkeying around. All the talk of by-gone days had distracted me. I’m a sucker for it. But I might have a solid lead to the last of the Chattertons under my arm and I felt a keen professional urge to get on with it.

‘Right,’ I repeated.

He started the car and trundled down the track just as he’d done many, many times before.


Back at his house we settled down into the verandah chairs and I lifted the box. I jiggled it up and down for a minute and then passed it across to him.

‘Let’s try to keep this on the square, doctor,’ I said. ‘I’m interested in your records for a period approximately thirty years ago. My information is that a child was born to a young woman at that time. I don’t know what name she gave but I do know her married and maiden names — it’s unlikely to be one of those.’

‘True.’ He drummed his fingers on the top of the box. ‘The woman was not bearing her husband’s child, I take it?’

It hit me then for the first time that she might not have been. But it didn’t matter either way. It was the Chatterton blood that was important.

‘I’m told that it was her husband’s child. It doesn’t affect the enquiry. It’s the mother who’s important.’

‘I see.’ He dipped into the box and started riffling the cards, plucking them up and stuffing them back. I wanted a cigarette but I didn’t want to disturb our uneasy detente. He looked up at me. ‘A young woman you said?’

‘Yes, very young — late teens.’

He nodded and kept digging. Eventually he held up a batch of cards. ‘I terminated the pregnancies of twenty-three such women in those years.’ He handed me half the cards. I glanced at them. They were covered with neat, spidery handwriting. I flicked a thumbnail against the cards.

‘I don’t think the pregnancy was terminated.’

‘You mean you hope it wasn’t. Can you be sure?’

‘I think so,’ I said slowly. I was conscious of the thinness of my information, and my ignorance of childbearing. ‘The photograph I saw showed a women who looked pregnant. Wouldn’t that suggest she was too far advanced to be terminated?’

‘Not necessarily. Cases differ.’

‘The nurse,’ I said desperately. ‘The nurse was in the photograph. They were acquainted. The nurse must have treated her as something special.’

He removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. ‘That is an ignorant remark, Mr Hardy,’ he said. ‘Gertrude Callaghan was the most warm and loving woman I have ever known. Everyone was special to her.’

I accepted the rout. ‘You’re right. I’m hoping a child was born. May I see the other cards?’

He passed them over, seven in all. I looked at them carefully. At the top of each a name was written, surname first, in capitals. There were dates then statistics. The data didn’t mean much to me — medical stuff, drugs used, tests, various readings. Each card contained a few lines describing the birth of a child giving time, weight, other measurements, instruments used and so on. I read through this and handed three cards back to Osborn. He took them in at a glance.

‘Females. Only a son will do?’

I nodded.

‘I wanted a son myself but it wasn’t to be. Do you have any children, Mr Hardy?’

I shook my head, still looking at the cards.

‘It’s a paradox, parenthood. Children enslave you, but they bring you great joy. My own daughter…’ He stopped himself. ‘What are you doing?’

I had a pen out and was scribbling on the back of an envelope. ‘I’m trying out some of these names, trying to see an anagram or something. Most people who assume false names don’t just pluck them out of the air.’

He leaned forward. ‘I’m good at that, a crossword fiend. What are the names?’

I handed the cards and the envelope over. I hadn’t got anywhere.

He examined the cards and wrote the names down vertically on a blank card. Then he wrote Brain and Chatterton opposite the list. He doodled on the card, making scrolls and stick figures and blocking in the letters. I was getting impatient, felt let down, and could sense the tobacco craving sneaking up on me. I shifted in my chair and held out my hand.

‘I’ll have to do it the hard way, doctor,’ I said. ‘Check on each one in turn. I just hope they aren’t too scattered.’ I was edgy and almost snapped my figures for the cards.

‘You won’t, you know.’ He separated out one card and handed it to me. ‘I’ll wager this is the one.’

I looked at it. Nothing. ‘Why?’

‘You were on the right track, just a bit off course. It’s not an anagram though.’

‘What then?’

‘Association. The poet Chatterton imitated the works of Sir Thomas Malory. That’s the name on the card. You didn’t know that, about Chatterton?’

‘No. I knew he was a fraud of some sort.’

He sighed. ‘You’re not as big a cynic as you make out. Malory, Morte d’Arthur. That’s a great work, written when English was a real language and not a grab bag of this and that.’

‘It was all like French as I recall,’ I grunted. He said something else which I didn’t catch. I was reminded of Henry Brain’s quoting habit but my attention had shifted to the card.

The delicate writing had faded as if such a pack of untruths could not survive the passage of time. Barbara Malory’s age was given as 17 years and there was a brief account of her physical condition which was excellent. Doubts were expressed as to her mental stability. On Saturday 3 December at 1.34 p.m. she had given birth to an 8 pound 12 ounce male child. The birth was uncomplicated, the child was without defect. There was no address for Barbara on admission or discharge — she came from nowhere and went nowhere. She had stayed at the clinic for 11 days and paid?5 per day; she had paid?38 for the doctor’s services. Okay, that was fine, congratulations all round, now what about the kid? The child had stayed a few days longer than his mother and had been declared ‘exceptionally strong and healthy’. This information was followed by a simple one-line entry: Mr and Mrs Gilbert Brudin, 116 Red Oak Road, Forrest, ACT.

I held the card out to Osborn with my thumbnail under the address. The nail was split and full of dirt. I must have clawed the ground when I went down in the night. I suddenly felt weary and in very bad shape but the adrenalin was running. The card was a shower and a shave and a bottle of champagne.

‘They took the baby?’


‘Not a formal adoption?’


‘How were the details arranged, registration and so on?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘That’s hard to believe doctor.’

‘It’s true, nevertheless. These people who took the children were determined folk. They’d been rejected by the official agencies, usually for ridiculous reasons like not being Christians.’ He looked as if he would have liked to spit. ‘They were prepared to do anything to get a healthy child and they made all the arrangements you speak of themselves.’ He read the name aloud. ‘Baudin, Baudin, no, I don’t recall them. But some of these people had influence, they were all intelligent and responsible, I saw to that.’

‘You said you kept a check on the children.’

‘In some cases, yes.’ He turned the card over. ‘Not in this one.’

I wrote down the name and address and returned the card. He balanced the box on his bony knees and deliberately put each card back into place — I stood up and held out my hand.

‘Thanks for your co-operation doctor.’

We shook hands. He didn’t stand.

‘You got what you wanted. You’re good at your trade, Mr Hardy.’

‘Sometimes,’ I said.

He put the box on the floor and eased himself up. One leg protested and buckled and he dropped back into the chair. He breathed heavily.

‘I believe I’ll do as you suggest with the records. I won’t write it up myself, too old.’

‘You’ve got a bit of fight left in you.’

I had the feeling that he didn’t want to let me go. It was as if we had some unfinished business. But I didn’t know what it might be or what else I could say to him. I moved towards the verandah opening. He looked shrunken and deflated in the cane chair.

‘There’s not much fight in me. Do you think I’m in danger?’

‘From whom?’

‘You said Gertrude was murdered… something to do with my work.’

‘I was theorising a bit,’ I said. ‘I don’t know for certain that she was murdered. There were signs that the house had been searched but she might have died naturally. She was an old woman, and frail I suppose?’

‘Yes, and getting more so.’

‘Well…’ I thought of Henry Brain again who certainly hadn’t beaten himself to death in the W.C. But whoever had cooled me had been content to leave it at that. Perhaps Brain’s death was a sort of accident. In any case I didn’t feel that a mindless killer was on the loose and I told Osborn so.

‘I won’t mention you when the police come to tell me about Gertrude.’

‘They might not be involved. She must have friends, someone will find her soon?’


I said I was sorry and realised that I was repeating myself. I wanted to say more, to indicate that I knew what he was feeling, but I didn’t. He was a secrets man. The stain around his eyes was almost black now and spreading. He seemed to be looking through me and down a long, dark tunnel.

‘Those records…’

‘Yes?’ It crossed my mind that this case was mostly records so far, cards and files, plus a few deaths. In my mind I was already on the way to Canberra, a whole city of cards and files.

‘Those records are honest in a way that most medical records are not. Doctors cover their mistakes, they use hindsight. I’ve done it myself. But not there.’ He looked down at the box. ‘That’s my real medical career.’

‘Then you have something to be proud of.’

‘No. I was selfish. My wife… I did nothing for her. My daughter died in childbirth.’ He was in the grip of it now, wandering painfully in the garden of his memories. ‘And Gertrude, Gertrude lost three children. There was nothing I could do. The people I loved and should have loved, my work did nothing for them.’

His voice broke. Tears were running down his worn-out old face. I lifted my hand in a sort of salute and left. I’d hardly been further inside his house than the verandah but I’d been deep, deep inside his life.


It was nearly noon. I hadn’t slept, I hadn’t eaten, I hadn’t shaved. I was tired, hungry, dirty and I stank. The day was cloudy but hot and I sweltered inside my sweat-stained clothes. I drove down to the foreshore, dug out a towel, and walked over some grassy dunes to the beach. The tide was out and the sand stretched clean and white in front of me. I walked as far from the other people on the beach as I could; they were a couple necking under an umbrella and two sagging mothers with about ten kids between them. A mile away the bridge looked like a spider’s web thrown across the estuary; a collection of small boats tossed up and down in the deep blue water out beyond a line of gentle breakers.

I stripped to my underpants and went into the water. It was cold; I went down under a wave and swam hard for the boats with short, choppy strokes. I got past the breakers but was still a long way short of the boats when my breath ran out. I floated on my back for a while looking up at the sky which was cleaner and closer than in the city. Then a plane ripped across it leaving a thin white streak behind it. I flipped over and swam back. The waves were no good for body surfing but I couldn’t have caught them anyway — the speed just wasn’t there.

After a walk along the beach and a cold shower in the toilet block I felt revived enough to contemplate the drive to Canberra. I got petrol and some salad rolls in Blackman’s Bay. It was still a nice town but my memories of it would never be quite the same. I bought a couple of cans of beer for company; I still looked rough but I felt fine.

From the coast to Canberra isn’t the worst drive in the world. The road is good for most of the way, a bit narrow in parts and some of the bends are hairy. I’ve never done it in a good car; for me, if I make it over the mountain without the radiator boiling, it’s a good trip. I made it and pushed on through the flat farming country at a steady fifty-five. The academics and public servants have moved into the cottages in the small towns and the main streets now have restaurants and shops full of pottery and raw wool.

The traffic thickened near Queanbeyan and held me down to a crawl. The city seemed to have its own patch of blue sky resting neatly above it. After the freshness of the hills and farms the air tasted of exhaust fumes and tyre rubber. I found a medium-price motel on the south side and checked in. I washed my shirt in the handbasin, took a swim in the pool and had a nap after asking to be called at 7 p.m. I came out of the sleep fairly fresh and shaved with an old blade and the motel soap. It hurt. I washed my hair with the same soap and thought of Ailsa, my ex-woman, my rich ex-woman, who’d bought me soaps and shampoos and shaving creams and kept me smelling nice. Then I thought of Cyn, my ex-wife who didn’t give a damn after a while how I smelt or what I did or thought or said. Funny thing was, I missed them both.

At eight o’clock I was wearing a freshened up shirt and a clean face and was ready to go calling. I got directions to Red Oak Road from the motel office and negotiated the circles and crescents they have in those parts to take the cockiness out of strangers. The neighbourhood looked like Professor and fat-cat territory; the gardens were wide and deep in front and the houses featured a lot of timber and glass and weren’t short on stone walls and terraces. The Baudin place didn’t let the street down. It had half an acre of garden out front and the trees seemed to have been specially chosen for their cumulative effect of taste and order. I could see a big garage at the end of the drive which held a brace of European cars. A few more of the same were standing out in the street.

I parked and went through the open gates towards the house. It was a well set-up affair in white brick with ivy or something growing on it. Splashing and the strains of jollity from behind the house took my attention and I kept on the drive towards the back. A gate in a white trellis fence gave on to a flag-stoned patio with a low wall around it. Beyond the wall was a swimming pool and a lot of smooth lawn. There was still some light and enough warmth in the air for fun, fun, fun; water splashed up from the pool and glittered like quicksilver. There were about ten people in the pool and three times that many out of it. The dry people were wearing casual clothes and drinking drinks. The sexes seemed to be about equally represented. I took a few steps across the patio and a big man in a dark suit came quickly out of the house and barred my way.

‘Private party sir,’ he said quietly.

‘This is the Baudin residence?’

‘A private party,’ he repeated. ‘By invitation.’

‘The night is young. I hope they enjoy it. I’m not here for a party, I want to see Mr and Mrs Baudin.’

‘What’s your business?’

I handed him a card. He read it and then looked me over carefully; he was poker-faced but his eyes told me he was wondering how anyone could sink so low. I felt resentment.

‘Who’re you by the way — the caterer?’

‘I’m Mr Baudin’s personal secretary.’

‘And bouncer?’

‘If necessary. There’s been no call for it so far.’

If it was an invitation I was prepared to pass it up. He had a couple of inches and many pounds on me and none of it looked soft. He held himself well and he’d put the card out of sight so fast I hadn’t followed the movement. His hands were free again.

‘I don’t want any trouble, just a minute or two with the host and I’ll be on my way — I won’t even dirty a glass.’

Our encounter must have looked intense because it had attracted the attention of some of the drinkers. A couple of them ambled across towards us. The secretary made a motion of his arm that suggested my dismissal, possibly by force, when one of the onlookers spoke up.

‘Hey, Cliff Hardy, Cliff.’ He lifted his glass. I recognised him as a reporter I’d known in Sydney. I’d heard he’d joined the staff of a cabinet minister. I raised my hand and my mind searched for his name. We shook hands.

‘How’s tricks Cliff?’

‘All right.’

‘Do you know Mr… Hardy, Mr Rose?’

Tom Rose.

‘Yeah sure, from my Sydney days. Still enquiring privately Cliff?’

‘Right. Still a fiercely independent voice?’

He laughed. Rose is a short, broad man and his laugh sounds like someone pounding on an oil drum. The laugh did for the secretary. I was in. He leaned forward and dropped a few discreet words between us.

‘Mr Baudin has been indisposed. I’ll take your card in and mention that you are acquainted with Mr Rose. He might see you.’

‘Thanks Jeeves,’ I said. He went off athletically into the house and I turned my attention to Rose. ‘You carry a little weight in this town, Tom?’

‘Just a little. Come and have a drink. Look Cliff I’d like you to meet Richard…’ He swung around to where his companion had been but the man had drifted away. ‘Shit, he’s gone. Never mind, come and have a drink, there’s gallons of it — the best.’ His voice was a bit sloppy. It wasn’t his fault there were still gallons. I fell in beside him as he moved towards the throng.

‘Who’s this Baudin anyway?’

He almost did a skip. ‘Captain of industry mate, captain of industry. Least that’s what he is now. He was a public servant once, just like me.’

‘What was it? Land, rate of the dollar?’

‘I wouldn’t like to say Cliff. He’s big in mining now. Here we are, what’ll you have?’

We’d reached a trestle table covered with bottles, ice buckets, siphons and chopped-up lemons.

‘Gin and tonic,’ I said.

A thin blonde in a pink pantsuit detached herself from a clutch of drinkers by the pool and came over to the table.

‘Let me do your bidding,’ she said throatily. ‘ ‘Lo Tom. And who do you write for?’ She got busy with the Gordons Dry gin and the Schweppes tonic and ice as if she knew what she was doing.

‘The New York Times,’ I said.

‘Stringer or staff? Do introduce us Tom.’

Rose sighed. ‘Cliff Hardy, Billie Harris.’

She smiled and handed me the drink. One of her front teeth was a little yellow but the drink was blue and cold as a good gin and tonic must be. ‘You don’t sound American Cliff, spent much time there?’ Her hands were busy building another drink but her glittering eyes never left me. ‘Are you on politics with the NYT, features?’ She started to move out and around the table towards me.

‘I’m sort of freelance,’ I said desperately.

Someone large fell or was pushed into the pool. The displaced water flew up, women shrieked, men swore and Billie Harris turned to look. I moved fast to the right, lurked for a few minutes, and came out on a landscaped higher level. Tom Rose was pouring beer into a schooner glass from a king-sized can.

‘Still got your pants on Cliff,’ he crowed, ‘what’s wrong with you?

‘Get stuffed, I’m working. Tell me more about the Baudins. What about the wife?’

‘No wife, she died a few years back.’ He drank some beer and dropped the question in casually. ‘What’s your interest Cliff?’

My throat felt dry as I formed the question in my mind; I eased the feeling with gin. ‘What about the son, he around?’

‘Baudin has two sons I think, depends which one you mean. Come on Cliff, what’s it about?’

The professional note in his voice warned me to cover up. Rose was still a journalist, still a news-monger even if he was now a politician’s errand boy. The last thing Lady C would have wanted was for everyone to be reading about her long-lost grandson before she’d met him herself.

‘Baudin’s just a small part of something else Tom,’ I said. ‘How’s your job here working out?’

He told me at some length. I hated to hear it; it was all excuses, excuses for changing a real but uncomfortable job for an unreal one. I only half-listened and kept an eye out for Billie Harris and the secretary. I finished my drink. Rose had got through the beer and he went off for refills. I wandered down towards the pool in which there were now only two people — a man and a woman treading water and talking conspiratorially down at the deep end. The party had moved off towards a section of the lawn where a couple of portable barbecues were going full-blast. I stared down at the pool; in the fading light the water looked like slowly rippling green ink. I turned around to look for Jeeves and bumped into a woman who’d appeared behind me. I apologised and had to look her straight in the eye to do it; she was nearly as tall as me and held her head up. She looked arrogant.

‘It’s all right,’ she said. ‘I should have coughed or something. I wanted to talk to you.’


‘I haven’t seen you at one of these do’s before for one thing and you were with Rose for another.’

‘Is that interesting?’

‘It could be. I watch his minister.’

‘So you’re a journo. What do you know about this Baudin character?’

She smiled and the arrogance fell away. ‘Me first — got any dirt?’

‘Tons, but not on Tom’s master — sorry.’

‘Oh well, worth a try.’ She leaned closer. ‘You’ve got a hard look to you now I come to notice. Are you a cop?’

‘No, private detective.’

The smile again. I was starting to like her. ‘But you’re not sniffing around Crowley?’

‘If that’s Tom’s boss, no. Why not pump Tom a bit?’

‘He’s pissed,’ she said. ‘He’s over there with a whole box of cans.’ She pointed towards the shadows. I tried to steer her over to the drinks table without doing anything as obvious as taking her arm or dragging her by the hair. She was wearing a dark blue dress with a red tie around the neck like a sailor’s. She had dark, short hair and long, slim legs ending in white, high-heeled sandals. Her eyes were dark and slightly slanted in a wide, high cheek-boned face. We reached the table and she asked for scotch and ice. I made it and put two drops of gin into a glass of tonic.

I gave her the drink. ‘Cliff Hardy,’ I said. ‘Who’re you?’

‘Kay Fletcher. What brings you here, I suppose you’re from Sydney?’

There was a wistfulness in her voice that gained her another hundred or so points with me.

‘Sydney, right. What’s the party for?’

‘Oh it’s all about some deal he’s pulled off, a mine of some kind I think. The government’s put up some money, that’s why the politicos are here.’

‘And the likes of you and Rose.’

‘I had nothing better to do.’

‘That’s hard to believe.’

‘Thanks, but it’s true. I went through all the possible men in this place in the first year, I don’t feel like starting on the rest.’

It wasn’t an invitation and it wasn’t a put-down. I judged that she was ready to be interested in me if I could be interesting — fair enough. I was on a job, though, and despite myself I looked up to the house for the secretary. I saw him out by the wall looking over the guests who were gathered around the burning meat.

‘Look Kay, I’m on a job.’ I pointed out the big dark man. ‘I have to see him and talk to Baudin, it shouldn’t take long. Will you be around?’

She looked at her watch, a big one made for telling the time. ‘I’ll give you an hour,’ she said, ‘maybe a bit more.’

I touched her arm, which made me want to do more touching, and went up to the house. The secretary loomed up over me like a medieval knight surveying invaders from his castle wall.

‘Mr Baudin will see you.’

I vaulted over the wall, showing off for the girl, and was sorry immediately. The knight seemed not to notice and strode off across the flagstones to the house. As I went in through the French windows it occurred to me that it was strange for Baudin to be still living in the same place thirty years later, given that he’d come up so far in the world. Not that it wasn’t a pretty fair shack; the carpet was thick and the paintings on the walls weren’t prints. The secretary showed me into a smallish room that had a bar against one wall and some books opposite. There were four big, velvet-covered armchairs. There were two men in the chairs. One was small and wizened with whispy grey hair around his bald skull. The top of his head was baby pink, incongruous beside the ancient, lined flesh on his face. He was wearing a cream shirt, cream trousers and white shoes, like the Wimbledon heroes of long ago. The other man had on a lightweight suit with the jacket open to show his soft, spreading belly. His face was pale and puffy. He was thirtyish.


Sir Galahad said my name softly and went away. The old man had my card in one hand. In the other was a glass with liquid in it the colour of very weak tea — at a guess it was the weakest of whisky and water.

‘Good evening, Mr Hardy.’ He lifted the card a millimetre into the air as if it weighed a ton. ‘I am Nicholas Baudin. May I ask what you wish to see me about?’ His voice was faint and fell away on the word endings.

Before I could answer the other man put in his oar.

‘Don’t be foolish father, what could you possibly have to say to someone like this?’ There was a sneer in his voice but some apprehension also; he leaned over and peered at the card. ‘A private detective who knows Rose and that slut Kay Fletcher. This is obviously some kind of newspaper muck-raking.’

‘This is my son, Keir,’ Baudin said. ‘This is his house.’

‘It used to be yours,’ I said for no reason.

Keir took another drink. ‘Researching the family Hardy? Won’t do you any good. There are no skeletons in our cupboard.’

The skin on the old man’s face tightened, his hand shook as he took a sip but he didn’t say anything. I was feeling out of my depth; here were two people very much on edge and all I’d done was present my card.

‘My father is ill as you can probably see — he mustn’t be upset.’

There wasn’t a lot of conviction in his voice and still some provocation. It crossed my mind that he wouldn’t worry if Dad did get a bit upset. I decided I didn’t like Keir. I addressed myself to the old man.

‘I’ll try not to upset you, Mr Baudin. I’m making enquiries about your adopted son but there’s nothing sinister in it.’

‘Warwick!’ Keir almost shouted the word and I could feel his apprehension and aggression go up a hundred points.

I said ‘My client…” and stopped. The pace had been too hot for me to think out in advance how to approach this moment. And I hadn’t expected it to come up so soon. How do you prise your way into the secret vault of adoption? Except that this wasn’t an ordinary adoption. That gave me some leverage. Keir’s obvious disaffection could be useful too, if I could play it right.

‘We’re waiting, Hardy,’ Keir purred. ‘Your client…’

‘I can’t give you the name of course,’ I said, knowing how lame it sounded, ‘but my client believes that your adopted son is properly part of her family. She wants to establish the connection; she’s old, it’s important to her.’

‘I was always curious about Warwick’s genes,’ Nicholas Baudin said.

This galvanised Keir. He slurped down his drink and his previously carefully modulated voice went up into a squeak.

‘Who are these people? Who?’

‘I’m sorry, I can’t tell you that at this stage. There are a lot of threads to tie up. This could be a false lead, if it’s not you’ll get all the details in time.’

‘Thanks very much.’ Keir again. He got up and stood as tall as he could — about five foot six. ‘This is preposterous. I won’t have it. I’m going to call Rogers and have this character thrown out. It’s an original line, I’ll say that for it.’ He moved up to his father’s chair keeping well away from me, still standing. He noticed that his glass was empty and went across to the bar for more. He slammed the glass down on the bar and turned dramatically.

‘Of course! This is Warwick’s idea! Come on father, this is some sort of hoax.’ He took his drink across and stood protectively near the old man’s chair. ‘You’re not a bad actor, Mr Hardy, you had me fooled. But I can’t for the life of me see how Warwick would get anything out of this.’

‘You’re babbling,’ I said. ‘I’ve never met your brother.’

‘Don’t call him my brother.’ The squeak was back. ‘He forfeited that right years ago.’

‘I’d like to hear about it.’

‘Well you won’t. Clear off.’

He was red in the face with anger and from the effort of keeping himself at his full height. I looked down at his feet and realised that I’d over-measured him; he wore built-up shoes that must have given him a couple of inches. Short men who want to impress should cultivate an icy mien or be jolly — I knew a few who did it successfully. I grinned at him.

‘I’d say that was up to your father. I’ve told you the truth, as much of it as I can.’

The old man seemed to get the message. He pulled himself up in the chair and shoved his glass at Keir. ‘Don’t brawl Keir, it’s not your forte. And for God’s sake get me a decent drink, it’s a crime to drown good whisky like this.’

The son snatched up the glass clumsily; his father could strip him of composure so quickly I almost felt sorry for him. Almost.

‘Sit down, Mr Hardy.’ The old boy pointed to the chair nearest him. ‘Will you have a drink?’

‘Thanks, no, I’ve got things to do tonight.’ I took out my tobacco and held it up enquiringly.

‘Go ahead.’ He took the glass from Keir without acknowledgment; the drink was dark this time, neat scotch over ice. He drank some and settled back in his chair.

‘That’s better. Do you know the occasion for this gathering?’

I worked at the makings. ‘Something to do with mining I heard.’

‘That’s right. A mine. It’ll be operational in five years — I’ll be dead.’

Keir made a noise that was hard to interpret, perhaps shock, perhaps dutiful protest. Baudin ignored it. So did I.

‘I’m nearly eighty and that’s the sort of thing I have to celebrate. What do you think of that?’

I had the cigarette going and took in a lungful. ‘I don’t know. You could celebrate being nearly eighty. A lot of people don’t make it so far.’

His snort could have been amusement. His old eyes just looked old.

‘There’s something in what you say. Well, are you offering me something else to celebrate? Has my adopted son come into enormous wealth or a title?’

‘No title. Some wealth I guess, if he’s the man. Other considerations are more important. I’m concerned about the family.’

He drank again and smacked his lips. ‘You should be. It pains me to say it of someone I raised, but if anything good is going to happen to Warwick it will be a colossal injustice. He’s one of the most worthless people that ever lived.’

This pronouncement seemed to give Keir heart.

‘He’s rubbish,’ he said. His father said nothing and his confidence went up. ‘Father I simply can’t believe this. He’s snooping about something else.’

All that did was tell me that there was something else to snoop about. Baudin senior tilted his head at him and he subsided.

‘Keir was born less than a year after we took Warwick. It was one of those cases. The two boys never got along.’

I nodded. ‘His character isn’t really my concern. I’d better come clean with you. I’m pretty sure he is the man I want. A physical similarity to other members of the family would help. Do you have a photograph of him?’

‘No,’ Keir snapped. ‘We have nothing.’

Something in the way he said it made panic jump in me. ‘You don’t mean he’s dead?’ Then I remembered Keir’s earlier remark.

The relief must have showed. ‘This is important to you, Mr Hardy?’ Baudin’s face seemed to lose flesh with the effort of talking.

‘Yes. Do you know where Warwick is now?’

I expelled smoke and waited for an answer. Keir supplied it from the middle of a smirk across his pasty face.

‘No, we don’t.’

Baudin pere didn’t contradict him. Instead he drank the rest of his whisky and set the glass down as if he’d lost interest in liquor forever.

‘That boy was the trial of my life,’ he said in his faint, falling tones. ‘Everything else I touched turned out just right except… except Warwick. He was trouble from the start. Enormously gifted but a monster. He killed my wife. She loved him more than me, more than Keir. She called him her marvellous boy and he killed her with worry and shame.’

‘What sort of trouble Mr Baudin?’

‘Everything — cars, girls, drink, cheques. Everything.’

‘Where was this?’

‘Everywhere. Here, Sydney, London, New York, Rome.’

Keir was loving it but he was a hypocrite to the core. ‘Really father, is this wise? I don’t trust this man an inch. His story is quite unbelievable. He’s in this with Warwick, you can bet your life on it.’

‘Bet my life,’ the old man said dreamily. ‘A good expression for the young. It doesn’t carry much punch at my age. It might interest you to know, Keir, that I’d bet my life Mr Hardy here is telling the truth.’

‘Why?’ Keir said petulantly.

‘God boy, you’d better sharpen up. If you can’t judge character better than that you’ll be on the dole before I’m cold. Have a look at the man for Christ’s sake, does he look like a confidence trickster?’

‘He’s in a cheap trade,’ Keir muttered.

‘There!’ the father said triumphantly. ‘There! You accept that he’s an enquiry agent. You’re confused. You’re believing what you want to believe.’

The unequal contest was starting to bore me. I wanted facts and leads, not a sparring match. All I had were impressions and hostilities; it would be hard to concoct a professional-looking report for Lady Catherine on what I had so far. The cigarette was a dead stub between my fingers.

‘Let me get this straight, Mr Baudin. Your son is something of a black sheep, or was. But he’s a grown man now. You mentioned gifts, what did you mean?’

‘Everything again,’ Baudin said slowly. ‘He was brilliant at everything. God you should have seen him run… cricket… tennis

… matriculated with honours…’ He was weary. The whisky seemed to have hit him. His eyelids were flickering as if he were fighting to keep them up. Keir watched him intently and expertly and I realised that this was what he had on him — the staying power of fewer years on the clock.

‘My father is tired, Hardy, and I have nothing to say to you.’

‘When did you last see your brother?’ I snapped.

‘Three years ago.’ Again, it came out too quickly; my firmest impression of this wispy young-old man was that he lied almost every time he opened his mouth. ‘You have to go,’ he said smugly.

There was no arguing with it, the old man was drooping. I put in a last desperate question.

‘Mr Baudin, what was the last address you had for Warwick?’

‘Sydney,’ the old man whispered.

‘He’s wandering,’ Keir said brightly. ‘It was London, a slum in Islington. Don’t make the trip, it wouldn’t be worth it.’

‘Why not?’

‘Warwick is a drunk among other things. His last card was a drunken…’ He stopped as if he was unhappy at giving this information away but I misinterpreted him. His pale face turned blotchy with anger and he seemed to be recalling nursery days. His voice went soft, almost babyish.

‘I wouldn’t put it past Warwick to dream up something like this. He hates me.’ It was interesting psychologically but I needed facts.

‘Have you got the card?’ I said.

‘What? No. I tore it up. Get out, get out!’

A light snore from the old man did the trick. Baudin senior was dead asleep in his chair. His hand rested an inch away from his glass which still held a few drops of whisky, just a few.


The sky had darkened and the party had thinned by the time I got outside. The secretary was hovering and he bustled back into the house when he saw me. I wondered which Baudin he served, Senior or Junior, or if he knew. Kay was sitting under a tree a little apart from the hard core drinkers. I walked over to her with that little pilot light of excitement burning.

‘Did you get what you wanted?’ She got up smoothly but didn’t seem to mind my token help in the form of a hand on her arm. Her arm was cool and soft and I kept hold of it.

‘I’m not sure,’ I said. ‘I’m a bit too tired to think about it right now. I’ll worry about it later. Do you want another drink here or will we go somewhere else?’

‘I’d like to eat. I’m starving.’

She went into the house and came out with a shoulder bag. We went down the drive past the remaining imported cars to my honest Falcon.

‘No car?’ I said.

‘Cab — expenses.’

She untangled the crescents and circuits for me and steered me towards the city. Otherwise she was quiet and didn’t volunteer much. I had to prompt her hard to find out that she worked two days a week at the university as a research assistant in Political Science and two days as a feature writer for The Canberra Times. She preferred the journalism but the two jobs complemented each other. We pulled into a big parking lot behind a department store and she stared out at the city lights.

‘What’s wrong?’

‘I’m not used to talking about myself.’

‘Okay I’ll stop. One last question. What brought you to Canberra?’


We walked through the parking lot and down some streets and across a couple of pedestrian plazas. Canberra has scored a few points against the motor car in the centre of the city, but just a few. The closed-off roads with pot plants and painted barriers look as if they could be swept away easily enough if someone decided they should be. Kay led me to some steps that went down into a big, circular concrete cellar. There was enough light to see by and some kind of matting on the floor. The food was on a serve-yourself system. We got steaks and garlic rolls and salad on our plates and I got a couple of small carafes of white wine. There were about ten plain wooden tables which would seat a dozen people and the drill was to plonk yourself down wherever you pleased. I was surprised to see people choosing to sit near others, obviously strangers, rather than going off by themselves. Kay went over to where a hippie-looking couple were sitting: the woman, who wore a plaid poncho and jeans, was holding a baby on her knee. The man was dark-bearded and thin: they nodded as we sat down, pushed the pepper and salt along and went back to talking quietly about their kid. We started on the food.

‘Good place,’ I said.

She nodded and kept eating.

‘Is there a no-talking rule?’

She shook her head and smiled. She had big white teeth and her smile was a fraction crooked. I looked at her hands — no rings. I drank the first glass of the cold wine fast and poured another — she did the same. Then we both smiled and touched glasses. She put down her knife and fork.

‘Ask,’ she said.

‘It’s a compliment really. What happened to the marriage?’

‘It did what it was supposed to do.’ She picked up her fork. ‘Then it finished.’

‘What was it supposed to do?’

She shrugged. ‘Get him a PhD and a couple of books.’ She didn’t sound or look bitter, more amused. If it had scarred her she wasn’t letting it show. Then she went back to eating and kept at it until all the food was gone. She wiped her plate with bread and put that down. We started on the second carafe.

‘God I needed that. I ran out without eating this morning and I don’t eat lunch. Sorry to be so incommunicative. I was just bloody hungry. Now, are you going to tell me what you’re investigating?’

I suppose I’d known all along that I would and that I’d be needing her help. The wine and food and her company had relaxed me. Little things that had come out in the interview with the Baudins were floating around in my mind, coming to the surface and forming a pattern. Something about this girl, which was how I thought of her although she must have been in her mid-twenties, and something about the ease we felt with each other made me trust her and want to try out the pattern on her. So I told her. I gave her all the details as far as I could recall them and put it all in order as it had happened. She looked concerned when I got to the bit about being bashed, but more interested than concerned. I’d obviously survived to do more sleuthing and that was what mattered to her. To me too. It took some time and the wine was finished when I got to the end. The hippies had melted away into the night early on in my exposition.

Kay toyed with her empty glass. ‘So you think Keir Baudin was lying. He knows more about his brother than he lets on?’

‘Yeah, that’s how it looks to me. He hates Warwick and he reinforces his father’s disappointment with him. The old boy struck me as pretty tolerant so this Warwick must be a real bastard.’

‘Mm, I’ve never heard of him, but I could ask a few people who might have. I could sniff around about Keir too, it sounds as if he’s got things on his mind. Tomorrow.’

‘Yeah, tomorrow.’ I was tired but not too tired, the wine had done me good and I could feel the juices flowing. I stroked her arm, raising the fine, light hairs and smoothing them down again.

‘That’s nice,’ she said. ‘What’s next Cliff?’

I laced my fingers through hers. ‘I want to go back to my motel and go to bed with you. Then I want to get up at 4 a.m. and break into Keir Baudin’s house with you keeping watch.’ I took out my licence and put it on the table; the younger, smoother Hardy face mocked up at my battered mug. I wasn’t sure why I’d put it there, unless it was some sort of personal commitment. But to what?

‘That doesn’t license you to break and enter.’

‘No, rather the reverse. They come down hard if they catch you at anything fancy.’

‘Ever been caught?’

I grinned. ‘Yeah, once or twice. The trick is to come out smelling clean at the end — I’ve done that so far.’

She looked at me and the photograph and back to me. We were thinking the same thing — was there a story in it for her and under what terms? That accounted for some of her interest in me I knew, but how much? I thought bleakly of the house in Glebe with nothing waiting for me but the dust and yesterday’s papers and realised that I didn’t care about the percentages. If she was ten percent interested in me that was fine, twenty percent would be a jackpot. If we had an unspoken semi-professional relationship in the making what the hell did it matter? I squeezed her hand confidently.

‘Come on, think about it on the way. If you’re against it I’ll just drive you home. Of course I’ll have to tie you up with knots that’ll hold you till dawn.’

She laughed. I paid the bill and we went out. The air was cool and we drew close as we walked. I put my arm around her and suddenly we were in a shop doorway kissing hard and fierce as if we’d invented it. I took her head in my hands and held it in close; she flicked her tongue into my mouth. We pressed together from knee to nose and I liked it, then we broke apart, both breathing hard.

‘Yes then,’ she said. ‘Yes.’

I didn’t say anything, just kept close to her all the way back to the car. I kissed her again before I started up and she let her long legs slide down in front of her. After a few minutes she fumbled beside her on the seat and came up with one of the bottles of Irish. I’d told her about Brain but not about the whisky.

‘Do you drink this stuff much?’

‘Not usually. It was to oil Brain’s tongue. I hope he died easier for it.’

She glanced sharply at me and it occurred to me then that this was confirmation of a sort of what I’d told her. I hadn’t thought until then that she might not have believed me — it was pretty weird for a pick-up story though.

She sat quietly with the bottle in her lap, then she said: ‘We’ll have a sip before we go to bed.’

The motel room was dingy and smelled of my washing but it didn’t matter. I could taste the sweet spirit in her mouth when we kissed and I pressed down on her and we connected. She thrust hard back up at me and dug her fingernails into my shoulders; we threw ourselves into it for a while and then she groaned and relaxed and I came hard and she hung onto me with her hands gentle now on my back.

We rolled apart and I reached for the telephone and booked the morning call. We pulled up a sheet and wrapped ourselves together and went to sleep. I woke up a bit later and disentangled; I put out the lights all but one and made a cigarette and looked at her while I smoked. She was lying curled up on her side; her face was hidden by the dark blob of hair; the sheet was down around her waist and her breasts were high set and pointed. Her skin was a faint amber colour like a faded- summer tan or an early summer tan or an all-year tan. She slept still and quietly; I finished the cigarette, lay down, and curved in beside her.

Post coital sleep is deep and a few drops of wine and whisky help things along. I was well under when the light came on and the radio started blaring. Baudin’s secretary or bodyguard or whatever he was stood near the bed. He had a big chrome-plated gun in his hand and although Kay was sitting up bare-breasted his eyes were only for me. He lifted the gun a fraction.

‘Disgusting,’ he said. ‘You’ve only just met.’ Kay pulled the sheet up, her eyes were wide and frightened and she looked at the gun as if she’d never seen one before.

‘Then again,’ he drawled, ‘maybe you have met before. That’s a thought.’

I pulled myself up and tried to get some balance and possible leverage in the bed. It’s not a good place to launch an attack from.

‘You better know what you’re doing,’ I said.

He smiled. He’d taken his tie off and he needed a shave which made him look even tougher. I searched my mind for his name — Reynolds? Rawson? Rogers, that was it, but it was one of those useless, irrelevant thoughts that come along at times like these. I should have been thinking about how to get his gun and put it down his throat.

‘I know what I’m doing,’ he said. ‘I’ve come here to ask you a few questions. If I’m satisfied with the answers I go away. If I’m not people start getting hurt.’

‘Ask away,’ I said.

‘Who are you working for?’

‘No comment.’

‘Where is Warwick Baudin?’

‘I wish I knew.’

He sighed. He was a bit stagey in his role but still efficient. ‘It looks like some pressure is needed.’ He held the gun very steady, pointed it at my belly, and hit me on the ear with a short, hard left hand chop. He knew how to hit. I went back and heard a harsh ringing start up inside my head. He moved around the bed, reached down and grabbed one of Kay’s breasts and twisted. She screamed and he slapped her hard, twice.

‘You won’t use the gun,’ I said. ‘Too much noise.’

He flexed the fingers of his hitting hand and pointed the pistol at my groin. ‘You’re wrong there. I’ve done it before. I really don’t mind doing it, you know. A private detective and a journalist, dead in bed, who’d care?’

Kay covered herself again and massaged her breast. ‘Cliff, I’m scared.’

‘So you should be,’ he said. ‘That was just a start, the possibilities are endless.’ She drew in a breath and Rogers moved a little closer to her.

‘If you scream,’ he said softly, ‘I’ll knock out a few of your teeth.’

My mind was racing trying to think why Keir Baudin had need of this animal. It had to be Keir; Rogers acted like an instrument — he was Keir’s malevolence and cruelty put into action. He had good control but he seemed to like uttering the threats and inflicting petty violence a little too much to be first class at his trade.

‘I’ll ask you again Hardy — who and where?’

I said nothing.

‘I think you’re going to have to come along with me Miss Fletcher,’ he said. ‘Perhaps you’ll be more reasonable.’

‘Touch her again and I’ll kill you.’

He gave a short laugh and reached for Kay’s neck. I pushed up off the bed and went for his wrist with both hands. I got it and twisted my whole weight against it; he yelled and dropped the gun but his recovery was quick. He hit me hard in the ribs as I came flailing to my feet naked and vulnerable. His eyes searched for the gun and I swung a roundhouse punch that got him high on the head and didn’t hurt him much. He chopped at my neck and I took more of the weight of it than was comfortable. I hit him again, low down but it was too light to bother him. Then he spotted the gun and bent for it; I rushed him and jerked a knee up under his chin. He grunted, went down and got a hand to the gun but he was hurt; I took hold of his arm, twisted it round and broke it. The snapping sound was nearly as loud as his yell and I clapped my hand hard over his mouth. He sagged down with his good arm on the bed. Little moans ebbed from his mouth along with spittle.

Kay was sitting up with her knees drawn up protectively in front of her. She was looking at me but there was terror in her eyes and I knew that things wouldn’t be quite the same between us again. I grabbed a handful of tissues and crammed them into Rogers’ mouth, then I pulled off his jacket and wasn’t gentle. Blood was seeping through the sleeve of his elegantly striped shirt. I ripped the sleeve from cuff to shoulder: the bone had broken a little above the elbow joint and a white splinter was showing through the skin which was discoloured, Rogers turned his head to look at the injury, his eyes wide in shock. I removed the tissues from his mouth.

‘Hospital,’ he croaked.

‘Yeah.’ I picked up the gun and put it on the bedside table before pulling on my pants. Kay crawled across the bed towards me and I put my arm around her and stroked her hair. I lowered the sheet; a big purple bruise spread around the nipple of her breast. The whisky bottle wasn’t far away, and I reached for it and took a swig. Kay shook her head when I offered it to her and I ignored the plea in Rogers’ eyes.

‘Get dressed, love,’ I said. ‘We’re going visiting.’

‘I need medical attention,’ Rogers yelped.

‘That’s right,’ I said. ‘That’s a nasty wound, gangrene’s a distinct possibility. You might bump it too. I’d say you could lose that arm.’

‘Christ,’ he moaned.

I got into my clothes; some of them were tangled with Kay’s and we exchanged smiles as we sorted them out. I was dressed and just taking another slug of the whisky when the early morning call came through. We all jumped and Rogers’ face contorted with the pain of the movement. I answered the call and then bent down close to his ear.

‘Listen you bastard, you’re taking us to Keir Baudin and you’re going to be happy to do it. One wrong move from you and you can forget about your arm. Understand?’

He nodded.

‘We don’t have to break in now Cliff?’ Kay’s voice was shaky but she was pulling herself together fast. I considered persuading her not to come, or trying to, but decided against it. She’d had some of the pain and deserved some pleasure; I also thought it might be useful to have a member of the fourth estate along.

‘Right,’ I said. ‘Change of plan. Are you up to it?’

‘Yes.’ She straightened her crumpled clothes and moved around towards me, taking care to keep well clear of Rogers. ‘I’m worried about him though. That arm looks bad.’

It did, and Rogers was showing strain and the effects of shock. He probably didn’t have very long before the injury would crumple him mentally and physically. I remembered his face when he hurt Kay though and I was all out of sympathy.

‘He’s a tough boy,’ I said. ‘He’ll last until we do what we have to do, then I’ll get him to a hospital. Come on, let’s go.’

I put Rogers’ gun, a business-like Harrison amp; Richardson Defender, in my jacket pocket and we went out as a threesome. A white Honda Civic was parked handily in the motel drive. Rogers stumbled and swore as we walked across the dark, quiet parking strip to the Falcon. I opened the back door and he scrambled in cradling his arm and muttering quietly. I asked Kay if she thought she could drive the Falcon.

‘Drive anything,’ she said.

I got in the back next to Rogers, pushing aside the clothes, tools and other junk I keep there. I got out the Defender, broke it and checked it. It was clean and fully loaded.

‘Nice gun,’ I said. Kay climbed into the driver’s seat and tugged at the seat adjustment lever.

‘Shit,’ she said.

‘Sorry love, it hasn’t been moved in ten years, you’ll just have to reach a bit.’ She shuffled her feet and jiggled the gearshift.

‘Not much,’ she said. ‘Give us the keys.’

After a few blocks Kay and the Falcon sorted out and she handled it well through the empty crescents and avenues. The dark blue of Rogers’ stubble showed against his white face as if it had been applied with burnt cork; he winced and swore with the movement of the car and his hair was wet and matted from sweat.

‘I could get an infection from this shit-heap,’ he said.

‘Could be,’ I said. ‘But for now just shut up and do what you’re told if you don’t want to drive that Honda with special fittings for the handicapped.’

Forrest was quiet and still under a bright moon; the road outside the Baudin house shone under the moon and street light like the centre court at White City. I told Kay to drive a little further to where some trees on the nature strip gave us some cover. She stopped and opened her door.

‘I think you’d better stay here.’

‘I’m coming,’ she said sharply. ‘You might need a witness.’ She put her hand on the front of her dress and pressed. ‘I’m involved, remember?’

I couldn’t argue with that. I held the door open for Rogers and we made our way slowly back to the house. Rogers took a step on the path that led up to the front door but I jabbed him with my finger.

‘Around the back,’ I whispered.

‘Why?’ Kay was close but keeping clear of the pocket that held the gun.

‘Who knows, this assassin here might have a mate. Did you see any signs of a dog when you were at the party?

She thought. ‘No.’

‘Me neither, but let’s have a poke around.’

The only car at home was a nice, conservative white Volvo.

That probably meant Keir was on his own; Baudin senior wouldn’t drive himself and I hadn’t seen any cars out on the street that might belong to any extra muscle. We went around the back to where the memory of the party lingered on. One of the barbecues still emitted a dull glow and a few paper plates floated on the surface of the pool like pale lily pads. There’d been a clean-up; bottles and glasses had been collected and there was no food lying about but it looked as if the work had been interrupted.

‘Okay,’ I said. ‘Let’s go in the front door.’

‘My arm feels stiff,’ Rogers moaned.

‘Good. Behave yourself and you’ll be in hospital before dawn.’

‘I’m cold,’ he said.

We got back to the nice, moonlit path and walked up it to the flagstoned porch in front of the house. I took out the H amp;R and thumbed the catch back and forward a few times.

‘Put that bloody thing away Cliff, please,’ Kay said.

‘It’s just for show.’

I rang the bell twice and we waited until a light came on in the house. There were footsteps inside near the door and Keir’s voice came through blearily.

‘Who is it?’

I tapped Rogers’ good elbow with the gun.

‘Raymond Rogers.’

The door opened before the porch light came on which is always a mistake. I had my foot in the door while Keir was still focusing on Rogers’ face.

‘What…’ he said.

‘It’s no time for the snappy dialogue Baudin,’ I said. ‘Your friend here didn’t go about things in the right way.’ I pushed him back into the house and shepherded Rogers and Kay through the door. Keir was wearing a paisley dressing gown over his pyjamas; without the built-up shoes he was gnome-like. I switched out the porch light which left us with the soft, expensive lighting in the hall. Rogers leaned against the wall and a trickle of blood ran down it towards the carpet. Kay stood with her back against the door. In the sailor-suit dress and with her face pale and eyes dark she looked like a tragic mime. The scene terrified Keir Baudin.

‘Rogers,’ he stammered, ‘why are you…’

I made a backing motion with the gun and he backed. ‘Anyone here?’

‘My father.’


He shuffled along the carpet and pointed to a door near the end of the hallway. We trooped down and I opened the door quietly. There was a night light on and its beam was falling directly on the old man’s lobster pink skull. He was lying on his back and snoring softly; his cream clothes were folded neatly over a chair and his teeth were in a glass.

I told Baudin we wanted the sitting room and he shuffled off obediently. The room was big with an elaborate ceiling rose, too many pictures on the walls and fussy furniture. Baudin was staring at Rogers as we sat down and he was licking his lips nervously. Kay went out and came back after a few minutes with a towel which she handed to Rogers; he dabbed at the blood and improvised a pillow for the arm. He didn’t look at her or thank her.

‘Let’s make this fast,’ I said to Baudin. ‘Rogers made a mess of things, he assaulted Miss Fletcher and we could press charges against him and you. I don’t think you’d like that.’


‘Also he’s in danger of losing his arm. The quicker you tell me things the quicker he gets treatment.’

‘He means it,’ Rogers whispered. ‘He means it, Mr Baudin.’

‘Right,’ I said. ‘Now what’s your problem, why all this aggravation?’

‘Well, Warwick…’ He stopped and it took a moan from Rogers to start him again but after that it came out fairly steadily. Warwick was blackmailing him. He’d lied about the last communication he’d had from him, now he produced it — a note scrawled on a postcard which was unstamped so it must have come in an envelope. It was undated:


This will be the last time I ask you for money, I swear it. I’m on to something big but I need a decent appearance. $1,500 will do. Send it c/- Honey 10a Clark Street Darlinghurst. Last time I promise. When I get the money I’ll send your stuff back.

The note wasn’t signed. I felt a surge of excitement at this nasty bit of work, but the timing was all-important.

‘When did you get this?’ Baudin looked relieved to get a question he could answer.

‘A year ago, or a bit less.’

‘Did you pay him?’


‘What did he have on you?’

The relief subsided, this was harder. He looked down at his tiny blue-veined feet. ‘Sexual things,’ he muttered.

I thought about it and didn’t like it much. Sending Rogers was an over-reaction even if he thought I was in collusion with Warwick; there had to be something more. I brought my hand up to rub my face and realised I was still holding the gun. Baudin jumped at the movement and shrank back in his chair.

‘Christ you’re jumpy. You’re hiding something. Did he send you whatever it was, this… stuff he talks about?’

‘No. He was always a cheat and a liar.’

‘And you’re an upright man, I suppose.’ I was feeling weary and out of ideas. I looked across at Kay who moved her shoulders in a sort of shrug. Suddenly I was angry, furious at the little creep and his thug who’d made me act like a sadist. I felt dirty and cheap and had to take it out somehow.

‘Why did you send Rogers after us?’

‘I told you,’ Baudin said. ‘I thought you and Warwick…”

‘Crap! I want the real reason.’

Baudin just stared at me and I forced myself to smile and relax in the chair.

‘All right,’ I said. ‘We’ll just sit here until I get it. That okay with you Raymond?’

‘Jesus,’ Rogers croaked. ‘Mr Baudin, this arm’s on fire. Talk to him, for God’s sake. I’ve got to get help.’ Baudin said nothing and Rogers screamed: ‘Talk to him!’ Kay had the look I’d seen on her face when I’d clobbered Rogers. She was on my side but scared of me too. I felt I was losing the grip and getting dirtier.

‘You talk to me,’ I said to Rogers. ‘Give me a clue, I’m easily satisfied.’

‘Indonesia,’ Rogers said. ‘Indonesian oil, he’s…’

‘Rogers, don’t…’

‘You shut up!’ I waved at Baudin with the gun hand. ‘What about Indonesia? Give us a bit more.’

Kay was leaning forward in her chair, professionally alert. Rogers wet his lips and his eyes bulged with the effort of talking.

‘He’s cleaning up money for them, using his father’s companies. He thought you might be on to him. I don’t know much about it, I swear. It’s a lot of money. Jesus God my arm!’

I stood up and beckoned to Kay. ‘We’re leaving,’ I said to Baudin. ‘Mucking around with Indonesian Colonels is about your style. I don’t give a damn. But if you’ve lied to me about your brother I’ll come back and see you. You’d better get him to hospital.’

Kay and I walked out and I put the revolver back in my pocket along with Warwick Baudin’s note. I could feel the nervous energy in Kay as she walked beside me, her shoulder and head nearly on a level with mine. She was steady and keen and I suddenly wished that I was on my own, that I could just get in the car and drive off. By myself. I was reminded of why I always tried to work alone — because I’d never learned to trust anyone but myself. We got in the car and I sat on the passenger side tense and mistrusting and not wanting to be that way. She reached for me but sensed my mood and drew back.

‘Do you want me to drive?’

‘Yes.’ I wanted to shout No. Go away! But I didn’t, I was hoping the feeling would pass. My head ached where I’d been hit and the lack of sleep was getting to me. I found the other bottle of whisky, pulled the cap off and took a drink. She started the engine; I cradled the bottle in my lap and waited for the liquor to do me some good.

‘Cliff, what’s wrong?’

I didn’t answer. How could I tell her I didn’t trust her? How could I say I don’t trust you to keep quiet about this juicy story. I said nothing and took another drink. She drove well but her fingers were tightening on the wheel and she was going too fast. I thought of the fights I’d had in cars with Cyn, fights so bad I’d crashed my fist down on her leg so that he wept with pain and rage but kept driving, fights so bad she’d ripped levers and buttons off the dashboard and kicked out the windshield. And I thought that my distrustfulness must have contributed to those battles. I forced myself to reach over and touch her arm gently.

‘Pull over Kay, pull in here.’

She looked at me suspiciously but she did it. I held her close to me, tight and warm; she resisted for a minute and then let go and we got as close together as we could in the front seat of an old Falcon. We stayed like that for a while, saying things that I don’t remember except that they meant we were going to be good to each other. We eased apart and she drove again; I didn’t drink any more whisky and I put the H amp;R Defender under the seat. It was still dark at the motel and we got inside and took our clothes off and went to bed. She fell asleep almost straight away with her head on my shoulder. I lay awake with my mind working, listening to a branch knocking against the window, but not for long.


The room was very light when I woke up and Kay was still sleeping beside me; her back was towards me and she was curled up in a tangle of sheets. I stroked her shoulder.

‘Hey, it’s morning.’

‘Jesus,’ she muttered from the huddle, ‘what day is it?’

I had to think. ‘Sunday.’

She curled tighter. ‘Thank God.’

I pulled gently at the sheets and she pulled back and soon we were making love, starting gently and ending up in a hard, bucking rhythm. The bed was a ruin and it was nearly midday when we reached the motel coffee shop.

She ate appreciatively again and picked up toast crumbs from her plate with a moistened finger.

‘You’ll be heading back to Sydney then, to follow this up?’

‘Yes, but not quite yet. You said you could ask around about the Baudins, can you do that today — Sunday?’

‘Yeah, no problem. What do you want exactly?’

‘Anything. I’d be hoping for something on Warwick’s cock-ups — cars, girls and cheques they said. Something might have made the papers. He was a jock too, there could be a photo.’

I paused and chose the words carefully. ‘There’s a story in the Indonesian business. I suppose you’d be interested in that?’

‘Mm, I’d have to wait until you’ve cleared all this up, wouldn’t I?’

‘Probably, but you never know. A bit of press could be useful at some stage. That’s happened before.’

She nodded and finished her coffee. I made a cigarette and she pulled a face.


‘You shouldn’t smoke.’

‘I know.’ I lit the cigarette, drew hard on it and blew the smoke away from her. ’It’s a strange case this. It looks to be plain sailing except that there’s someone trying to get in on it. I have to assume they’re trying to stop me reaching the…’


‘He’s hardly that. It sounds as if he had the best of everything.’

‘Aren’t you scared?’

‘No. I can’t see a lot of violence in this — Brain could have had a thin skull, and I only got a tap. It’s one of the things that puzzles me.’

‘If Warwick is the lost grandson, maybe someone knows that and has an interest in him not turning up.’

‘Yeah, but why not just put him out of the picture — why mess about with the bit players like me?’

‘Maybe the person doesn’t want Warwick to prosper but can’t bring himself to kill him, or can’t afford to.’

‘Keir you mean?’


‘Maybe. I have to find out who benefits most from things staying just as they are. I’ve got someone working on that.’

She went quiet and I finished my cigarette and picked up the bill. She shifted in her seat, the broad, almost Tartar face was clouded and she spoke nervously, without her usual crispness:

‘D’you worry about the morality of this, Cliff?’

I went on guard. ‘What morality’s that?’

‘Don’t snarl, I mean about digging back like this, uncovering all these things, splitting people up.’

‘It doesn’t bother me,’ I said but I knew I was lying. It did bother me but I couldn’t help it. Shallow graves got uncovered, secrets were divulged, liars were found out — it happened all the time and I was just an agent, just a lever. Sometimes there were happy endings. Sometimes. She looked down and I thought Oh Christ, more trouble. But when she lifted her head all seemed well. She gave me the crooked smile and rooted in her bag for a pen and paper. Our hands touched when she handed the paper across and the contact was still good. We were both skirmishing I felt, both mistrustful, but hoping. It could have been worse.

‘Phone me at the paper in a couple of hours,’ she said. ‘No. In one hour, I should have something by then.’

‘Okay, what’re you doing tonight?’

‘Depends,’ she said and got to her feet. ‘Depends on a lot of things.’ She waved and walked breezily out of the place. I watched her go in the crumpled dress, slim back and long legs and the evening shoes that looked oddly pathetic in the daylight. I sat and thought and the Chatterton case and Kay got all tangled up in my mind until I didn’t know what I was asking questions about or what answers I wanted to find.

I rinsed my shirt again, shaved rough again and took a dip in the pool. The chlorine was fresh and sharp and the water was cold: I swam hard, lap after lap, and showered and put on the clean shirt and felt good. Then I called the number Kay had given me; her voice was brisk and efficient on the phone but there was warmth in it too. She sounded pleased with herself.

‘Warwick Baudin sounds like a real rat,’ she said.

‘What does he do — rape old ladies?’

‘I wouldn’t be surprised. He was in all sorts of trouble. He crashed a few cars that weren’t his.’

‘Yeah, I heard about that. High spirits maybe.’

‘No, there’s a nasty streak to him. There’s a story that he sold drugs here, not just grass, and made money at it. Then there was a bust and he got off. The word was that he informed on the others. He left Canberra soon after that. Oh yes, he assaulted his father in public once but it was hushed up.’

‘Choice. Anything on Keir?’

‘Not much. He sounds like the dullest man alive. He went to school and university here, undistinguished at both. Then he went to work for his Dad. He’s sort of never left home.’

‘He’s been overseas I bet.’

‘Yes, he used to travel with his Mum and Dad. It’s been a bit of a joke, his closeness to them.’

‘It’s a cynical world. You said “used to”.’

‘Right. He’s made a couple of trips to Indonesia in the last two years’.’

‘Aha. Anything on Warwick’s sporting triumphs?’

‘Oh Christ yes, tons. He went to half a dozen schools around here, he was always getting expelled, but he cleaned up at sport — running, swimming, throwing things, kicking things — the lot. It grieves me to say it, but he was bright as well; he got distinctions in his last year at school.’ She paused: ‘Yes, here it is — maths, economics, modern history, Italian. He only got a credit for English.’

‘Tough. Went on to uni did he?’

‘Yes, he did two years of Law. He won the iron man in his first year. Do you know what that is?’


‘It’s a race. They run about five miles I think and have to eat things and drink a lot of grog throughout. They get disqualified if they vomit. Warwick holds the record.’

‘Charming. How’d he go at Law?’

‘Tapering off a bit but he got through the first year well enough — the drug bust came in the middle of the second year.’

‘I see. Well that’s terrific work, love, anything else?’

‘Yes, you said you wanted photos, well I’m told there are two in The Canberra Times.’ She gave the dates. ‘I can’t get a look at the file copies on Sunday. You’ll have to go to the National Library. It’s open today. You know where it is?’

‘By the lake?’


‘Tickets needed?’

‘No, it’s a public utility. You have full rights as a citizen.’

Then her voice changed and the brisk and businesslike tone took over completely. ‘Phone me when you’re finished,’ she said.

‘Look Kay, don’t stand back so far. I’ll come and get you at five. Okay?’

She said it was. I paid a bit on account at the motel; the money was running low but I had the receipts and Lady Catherine was getting value. I felt uppish; the tried and tested procedures were working. I had leads to follow.

Driving across the bridge in Canberra is a very low-key experience: the lake looks and is artificial, placid and blue with no debris. The bridge spans it easily. It all feels planned and controlled and easy, soft. The National Library is a cream and pink copy of the Acropolis on the sculptured shores of the lake. It’s surrounded on three sides by car parks; cars were bullocked up on footpaths and dividing strips and parking tickets flapped on their windshields like bunting. I squeezed into a semi-legal space, grabbed a pad and pen and headed for the portals.

A gaggle of tourists was gasping at the stained glass windows and bronze work; another batch was inspecting a pottery exhibition on the mezzanine floor. I got directions from a succession of attendants and finished up in an airless room in front of a microfilm reader. The PhD students were scratching on cards, scratching themselves, yawning and chewing gum. I stabbed at the automatic button; months of life, marriage, death and world events flashed in front of my eyes and the students frowned as they crept, inch by inch, frame by frame, through their papers.

The Canberra Times is a broadsheet which meant that I had to adjust the machine often to scan the whole page. I got distracted by the headlines and stories at the beginning of the seventies. The rot had set into the Government, the ministers’ speeches were getting sillier by the day and the Opposition was just sitting pat, trying to sound sensible and waiting for its finest hour. A tide was flowing — a three year tide. I found the first picture of Warwick Baudin in an issue for November 1968. He’d competed at the inter-school sports and won all three sprint races and the long jump; he was standing straight and tall in a track suit sucking on a can of soft drink. It was like an advertisement: he had a big, open face with a lot of curly dark hair. He looked sure of himself — so would I if I had a 48.4 440 to my credit. The best I could manage was 52 seconds. But Warwick, the boy wonder of the track, had slid a long way in two years. The next picture, in October 1971, was on the front of a Saturday paper. The crash had occurred on the Cotter Road — two sports cars. One driver was dead, a girl passenger was seriously injured and the other driver was standing unhurt in the photograph by the side of the road. A headlight had hit him full in the face, washing it stark white. They weren’t ideal conditions to be photographed in, but Warwick’s face looked much fuller, almost bloated, and his body was bulky inside the casual clothes. There was talk of charges — driving under the influence, manslaughter — it was a bad business. Staring at the frank, unstudied picture I tried to see a resemblance to the old man who’d handed down the savage sentences in court, or to the softened lines of the face that looked down from the wall in Rushcutters Bay. It was there all right, but oddly stronger in the younger face. Making all allowances for the circumstances, in the later pictures Baudin’s face showed traces of a hesitancy or self-doubt which had never troubled Sir Clive.

I printed out a few copies of the pictures, made some notes and handed the reels back to an attendant who gave me a tired, sceptical smile. The whole operation had taken less than an hour and I hadn’t used a single stick of gum. Outside the air was warm and still; I took a walk along the edge of the lake and tried to think about genetics and blood tests and whether it could be proved that one person was the child of another. I had a feeling that you couldn’t and all the tests could establish was that some people could not be the progenitors of others. Maybe it wouldn’t come to that, maybe it wouldn’t come to anything. It was still a paper chase, the pictures in my pocket were like a talisman but, for all I knew, the man himself could be manacled to a prison wall in Bangkok for heroin dealing.

Wandering around the big, grey complex of government buildings I tried to push the whole thing aside. The letter I’d got from Keir Baudin was calling me to Sydney, to Honey of Darlinghurst whoever she was, but Kay kept breaking in on my thoughts. Ailsa and I had been on and off lovers, a night here, a night there; I tried to think when I’d last slept two nights in succession with a woman — it was a long time ago.


It was a good night. I ran the Falcon through a car wash just to kill some time while waiting to pick up Kay. I felt young again, transported back to when cars and girls meant everything. We had a couple of drinks and ate in a restaurant that had once been an old house — we took our own wine and I wasn’t the only man not wearing a tie. Around ten o’clock we were standing in one of the pedestrian malls and her hips were pressing into me and we were kissing like I was leaving for the front the next day.

We broke apart. ‘Come to my place,’ she said, ‘I can’t wear the same clothes three days in a row.’

I smoothed her hair. ‘I often do.’

‘That’s because you’re uncivilised, a predator.’

‘You disapprove?’

‘No.’ She kissed me quickly. ‘The world’s full of desk-sitters who smell of shampoo and soap. You smell of…’

‘Alcohol and sweat?’

‘A bit, not too much.’

Her flat was in Ainslie, close to the centre of the city. It was the top half of a house which we reached down a sideway pushing through an overgrown garden. Inside the colours were cream and brown and there was a comfortable amount of untidiness. I automatically browsed through her books while she showered; there was a touch too much philosophy for my taste, but the novels were sound — Hemingway and Waugh, Keesey and Amis, a sprinkling of Hammett and Chandler. I was reading Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory when she came out wearing a Chinese dressing gown. Her hair was wet and spiky and gave off a smell of apples. We kissed hard and leaned into each other, needing and giving support.

‘Great book,’ she said.

‘Yeah.’ Then we were kissing again and soon after that we were on a big low bed under a window. We satisfied the first, hard, need quickly and then lay close and talked and let a slow warmth creep over us. The second time was slower and I was conscious of the whole of her body and her experience; her slim, strong arms and the long legs that trapped and held me lightly. I lay there in the dim light listening to her breathing and then my breathing fell into synch with hers and I slept.

I woke at five o’clock and got up quietly. I dressed and was copying down the number of her phone when I heard her move in the bed.

‘What are you doing?’ She sat straight up and I could feel a wave of tension flow across to me. I leaned down and kissed her bare shoulder.

‘I have to go Kay. I’ve got your number. I’ll call you.’

She grabbed my hand. ‘When?’

‘Tonight and every night until this is fixed. Then I’ll come back here.’

‘When you’ve finished the job?’


‘Business first.’

I knew what she meant the way I’d always known what Cyn had meant — the missed meetings and the professional drinking and the sleep binges. She flopped back and curled up the way she had in the motel.

‘Canberra specialises in quick affairs Cliff,’ she said. ‘I’ve had men propose to me over breakfast and fly to London at lunchtime.’

‘I’ll call you tonight at eight. I promise.’

‘I hope so,’ she whispered; she rolled over away from me, twisting the sheet around her.

I let myself out quietly and negotiated the sideway; the dew was heavy and the overhanging branches dripped on me as I pushed through them. It wasn’t like walking away from a good, quick roll in the hay, it wasn’t like that at all.

I made myself unpopular at the motel by hauling the manager out of bed and paying my bill. From the look he gave me I would’ve bet the first thing he did after I’d gone was check the towels. It was going to be a hot one in Canberra; the sky was a blank blue and a heat haze was forming over the mountains. The air was still cool but a west wind was promising to make it dry and gritty within an hour. I cruised through the quiet streets along with the dogs and joggers and gave my newly cleaned car its head when we reached the highway. The drive from Canberra to Sydney has got easier in the last few years. They’ve punched through some hills and by-passed some of the towns. A good drive in a good car can do it in under four hours. It took me nearly five.

I was dry and hungry when I reached Glebe. I collected the mail and newspapers and went into the house; dust drifted about in the beams of light and the cockroaches, blissfully undisturbed for a few days, ran for cover. I cleaned myself up and made a meal with limp things from the fridge and plenty of cold wine. The papers carried a lot about the economy, all lies, something about prison riots, mostly lies, and profound analyses of events in the Middle East. There was no mention of Henry Brain. Four bills almost cancelled out the Chatterton money and as far as I could remember there was nothing else coming in. I called my answering service and learned I’d had two callers — Cy Sackville and Verna Reid.

I phoned Sackville who told me not to get into any trouble for a few weeks because he was going to a conference in Athens and planned to trip around Europe for a bit afterwards.

‘Who pays?’ I asked.

‘You do mate, the taxpayer. Now about this Chatterton business. I couldn’t get a lot on Henry Brain. He was a barrister, a good one, and he got struck off for drunkenness in court. That’s going back a bit; he never applied for reinstatement.’

‘He stayed drunk.’

‘There’s a lesson in that for you,’ Cy said primly. ‘On the Chatterton estate I can’t help you much. Young Booth didn’t know who gets the dough, Dad hasn’t told him. There are a few funny things about it though.’


‘Well, the secrecy for one thing. Booth junior says it’s unusual for Booth senior to be so close-mouthed. It might mean that the estate is tied up in some way. Also, someone else has been asking about it.’


Booth doesn’t remember his name, some bloke who traped an acquaintance with him at a squash court. Big chap was all he said, looked as if he needed the exercise. That probably made Boothie feel smug — he’s in great shape.’ Cy himself is as thin as a stick of spaghetti which he eats in large quantities. He never exercises; he’s a workaholic who burns the weight off by mixing ambition with performance.

‘What did this big bloke say?’

‘Not much I gather and Booth probably didn’t give a lot away. He’s with an old firm, a conservative one, and Boothie knows that he’s not the brightest. He plays it pretty cagey.’

‘When was this and are you sure that’s all?’

‘A couple of weeks ago it was. Only other thing Booth recalled was that mention was made of the old lady’s companion — Miss Reece?’


Cy grunted, he wasn’t used to getting things wrong.

‘D’you want to be filled in on all this Cy?’

‘Not really. It’s bound to be sordid and I’m trying to clear my head for the holiday. I’ve got a lot to do, I’ve got to check on Greek scuba gear and I’m thinking of buying a Citroen over there and shipping it back… what do you think?’

‘Great idea,’ I said. ‘Give me the old one.’

‘I’ve seen your car, you don’t deserve a Citroen.’

He gave me the name of the man who would be filling in for him and a run-down on his prejudices — they seemed to cover everything I did and stood for. He sounded like the right man to brief the prosecution if I got into trouble.

After hanging up I went to the car and dug out my notes on the case and added a few more facts. I sat and thought; I had a cigarette and some more wine; I wrote Kay Fletcher’s number in my book. When I couldn’t stall any longer I rang the Chatterton number. Verna Reid’s voice came over the wire like a chill Melbourne wind. She didn’t seem to want to connect me with Lady C but I insisted and the line stayed live. While I was waiting I wondered whether Miss Reid was in line for the money, a heartbeat away from a fortune, and where her boyfriend and Richard Selby fitted into the picture.

The phone crackled. ‘Mr Hardy, are you there?’

I said I was.

‘I expected to hear from you sooner. Where have you been?’

‘To the south coast and Canberra.’

‘What have you learned?’

‘Henry Brain is dead — you know that. Nurse Callaghan is dead too.’

A long sigh whispered through. ‘So you have nothing to report?’ Her voice was empty of any interest in the lives and deaths of Brain and Callaghan. She’d known them both but they meant nothing to her except as stepping-stones to what she wanted. It reminded me that the Chattertons were ruthless elitists, not humanitarians. There was no point in caring whether the old woman got what she wanted or not. It was a job.

‘I didn’t say that,’ I said soothingly. ‘I spoke to Brain before he died and I may have spoken to the doctor who delivered your grandson. I’m in the process of tracing that person now.’

‘Who is he?’ she said excitedly. ‘Tell me about him.’

I stalled. ‘I don’t think that would be wise; he may not be the right man and it may not be possible to locate him.’

‘I’ve never heard so many may nots. I hope you’re not covering up a failure, Mr Hardy.’

That caustic arrogance in the voice made me want to slam the phone down but I took a breath and used the only weapon I had.

‘I’ll give you one more may not,’ I said harshly. ‘You may not like him when and if you meet him.’

‘If he is the right man, Mr Hardy, he will have character, he will be fundamentally sound.’ Her tone was less confident than the words. ‘Perhaps you can tell me one more thing: since you are determined to play cat and mouse, has the man in question been brought up by… respectable people?’

It was easy to see what she was thinking. A man of thirty is fully formed or should be. She could do some polishing, and a bit of money spent properly could do wonders, but she couldn’t make a judge’s grandson out of a brickie’s mate. I put the needle in by delaying the reply.

‘Very respectable.’

‘Thank you, that is good.’ Her voice sounded younger, lighter, and I wondered if she was patting her iron grey hair. It would be interesting to see how she’d tackle the future heir if I could produce him. I tried to tell her about some of the obstacles I’d encountered but she’d turned off. I wanted to ask about her will and maybe I could have got an answer: I was the life-jacket of her hopes and this could be used to control her natural tendency to treat me as a chattel. But I didn’t know who could be listening on other phones in the house, so I asked her for more money instead.

‘Verna will attend to it,’ she said. ‘Press on Mr Hardy. When you have a definite result we will have another meeting. Goodbye.’ She was playing it cautious again, I thought, and regretting the outburst of enthusiasm. The boy would just have to learn that Grandma didn’t let it all hang out.

Miss Reid came back on the line and I told her that Lady C had given the OK for some money. She didn’t question it, which might have meant that she’d been listening. I asked her for three days’ fees and seventy-five dollars in expenses.

‘Have you receipts for the expenses?’

‘Some,’ I said, ‘bars and massage parlours don’t issue them. I’ll send you a list.’

‘That won’t be necessary,’ she said crisply. ‘I’m authorised to pay you. A cheque will be sent today.’ She hung up.

I squinted out the window at the day which had turned grey and ambiguous. There was a broad, pale band of sunlight across the wall of my neighbour’s house and a fine vapour was lifting off his elegant ferns. My own garden is low and scrubby and features plants renowned for their ability to withstand neglect. I locked up a couple of copies of the photographs of Warwick Baudin, pocketed a set, and left the house. Clark Street in Darlinghurst is narrow and dog-legged so that, at the bend, the high terrace houses seem to lean over it the way houses do in Europe. The traffic runs only one way and the street rises sharply at the end where it meets Oxford Street. It was the middle of a warm, still day and the air was heavy with motor fumes and dust. The street was cluttered with illegally parked cars and barefoot people in jeans and men in three-piece suits.

A girl was sitting in the fitful sun in front of number eight. She had on a yellow, Chinese-design, silk dressing gown which had fallen open to the waist; her breasts were pale and heavy with pink, spreading nipples. She was filing her nails and her tongue was caught between her teeth in concentration. She looked at me with just the merest flicker of interest, the way an old dog looks at an old bone. I put my hand on the gate of number ten.

‘They won’t be up yet,’ she said in a heavy accent, Dutch or German, ‘can I help you?’

‘I want to see a girl named Honey,’ I said. ‘Am I at the right place?’

‘Yah.’ She stopped filing. The dressing gown slipped open around the narrow tie belt and I could see a swelling of white, soft belly and the top of a thatch of blonde pubic hair. ‘She lives there but she is not a girl. Do you like it with old women?’

‘Not really. Miss…?’

‘Inge.’ She shrugged, her plump breasts shook like blancmange. ‘You’re about thirty years too late then.’ She laughed and loose flesh moved under her chin, on her chest and down her hairless white legs.

‘Don’t listen to her, dear.’ The voice came from above our heads and I looked up. A woman was leaning over the rail on the upstairs balcony of number ten. Her hair was purple and she was wearing a purple dressing gown. He voice was low-pitched and the vowels were over-careful. ‘Wait there dear, I’ll be right down. Be careful of that sun Inge, you don’t want to ruin your complexion.’

Acne scars pitted the blonde girl’s face. She saw me noticing them, turned pink, and went back to filing her nails.

I opened the gate and approached the door of number ten. The house was an old two-storey terrace; the brickwork had been rendered over and marked to simulate sandstone blocks. It had had at least three earlier paint jobs and now it was a flaking, dusty green with the window trimmings picked out in yellow. There was an iron-framed garden chair on the porch and two pot-plants — the pots overflowed with cigarette ends.

The door opened and the woman in purple struck an attitude in the doorway; she was tall and thin and used to making the most of her figure. She cocked one hand up on her hip and let the other drift out aristocratically towards me. I put one of the cards in it.

‘That’s me,’ I said. ‘Would your name be Honey?’

‘That’s right darling, I’m Honey Gully.’ She peered at the card and the set smile faded. ‘Trouble?’ The careful control peeled away like the paint from her house and the word came out harsh and anxious.

‘I don’t think so, Miss Gully, can I come in?’

She hesitated. ‘It’s early, place is a mess.’

‘I don’t mind,’ I said. ‘It won’t take long and I’ll pay you for your time.’

She brought her face up to mine and squinted to focus on it. A network of lines around her eyes and mouth had flecks of make-up embedded in them. Her mouth was wide and just beginning to fall in; she could have been a beaten-up forty or a well preserved sixty. She drew back and her eyes relaxed into a pale blue myopic vagueness.

‘I don’t like this,’ she said. ‘I’m not paid for my time, what do you want?’

I bustled up close and forced her into the hallway. She gave way and I bustled some more and closed the door behind me. Her forward drifting tendril of a hand became a nervous thing that plucked at the neck of the velveteen dressing gown, drawing it higher and safer.

‘Where’s your room, Honey?’

Maybe she liked my honest face, maybe she thought that if I’d been going to hit her I’d have done it by now; she shrugged. ‘Top of the stairs,’ she said. ‘On the right.’

‘Let’s get up there and talk.’ I took hold of her upper arm and my fingers met around it; she had bones like a factory-bred chicken and skimpy flesh to match. I propelled her in front of me up the stairs; using my weight. The stair rail was draped over with female clothing and there was a smell of stale scent, sweat and cigarette smoke in the air.

Honey Gully’s room was full of early afternoon light and the signs of her own creativity; silk-covered cushions were scattered about on the floor and the low bed and some tapestries of Oriental design showing sexually ambiguous figures in contorted positions, adorned the walls. There was a dressing table covered with the usual stuff, a heavy carved chest and a high bookshelf crammed with paperback and hard-cover books.

She shook free of me and glided into the room; dropping down onto a big cushion by the bed, she drew her knees up, the purple tented up into an elegant triangle.


My aggressiveness had subsided on the stairs and dropped away completely now. Somehow the room was pathetic as if it were the work of a frustrated artist or a woman playing at being a college girl. Standing awkwardly in the doorway I let her regain the initiative. The chin cupped in the hand and the incline of the head were probably perfected twenty years before at least, but the gesture still had charm and some freshness.

‘Well, I don’t think you’re here for a screw, you don’t look the type. If you want information on someone you’re out of luck. I don’t ask their names and I shut my ears if they try to tell me.’ She put her palms over her ears and grinned mockingly. I grinned back and came into the room.

‘You’re quite a girl,’ I said and meant it. ‘You must have been beating the men off a few years back.’

‘I still am, darling.’ She tossed her head. ‘You’d be surprised how many men like drooping tits.’ She played with the catch on her gown. ‘Care to see?’

‘Not just now. I want to talk about someone who probably saw the whole show.’

‘I told you, no names.’

‘You can’t pull that, Honey.’ I tapped my pocket. ‘I’ve got his picture. I can tell you this, you won’t be getting him in trouble. If you can help me it’s a stroke of luck all round.

She sighed. ‘I could use a few strokes myself- of luck that is.’ Her own wit cheered her up. ‘Let’s have a look at him.’

‘Better put your glasses on, Honey,’ I said.

She stuck her hand under the big pillow on the bed and pulled out an embroidered, beaded case which she opened and took out a pair of glasses with fuse-wire thin gold frames. She hooked them on to her fine, experienced face where they looked stylish.

‘They look good,’ I said. I lowered myself onto one of the cushions and took out the photo-prints.

‘Rubbish,’ she said as I handed the prints over, ‘they make me look like a hag, which I am.’ But she was pleased just the same and disposed to co-operate. She looked carefully at the pictures for a long time, then pulled off her glasses and stared across the mile or so of space between us.

‘They’re not very good of him.’

My heart bumped. ‘But you do know him?’

She leaned back, vamping: ‘Many times, many times.’

I was too tense for it. ‘Where is he now?’ I rasped.

‘Haven’t a clue, ‘ she said cheerfully. ‘Haven’t seen him for ages.’

‘Jesus! You don’t know where he lived?’

‘No dear, he never took me home to meet his Mum.’


I wasn’t really let down; I hadn’t expected him to be boarding there, but I’d hoped Honey would still be in touch with him. Still, a year isn’t a long time, I thought. The trail was still warm compared to some I’ve followed and it was time to consolidate, get all I could on him, and look for the next doorway.

I made a cigarette while she fiddled with the pictures. Her face was hard and vain but there was humour in it and in the set of her lean body. She looked as if a shrug might always be her next movement. I blew smoke and put the match in a seashell ashtray.

‘You must have liked this one, Honey?’

‘Why d’you say that?’ She went on fiddling nervously.

‘Do you let all your clients use you as a mail drop?’

She looked up shrewdly. ‘Know about that eh? Let me tell you, I was furious. It broke all my rules.’

‘Like not knowing their names?’

‘Well, that gets broken from time to time. No, I mean about getting involved, families and all that.’

‘I get it. Something came from Canberra?’

‘Canberra, yes.’

‘Was that the last you saw of him, when he picked that up?’

‘The very last. I wasn’t sorry, he was no good.’

‘In what way?’

‘In every way — mean, selfish, rough…’

‘He was violent?’

‘I’ll say. I thought he was going to eat me the first time. Look, this isn’t embarrassing you?’

‘No, I’m older than I look. Go on.’

‘He really liked the old stuff, you know? Kinky for it.’

‘Kinky in what way?’

‘Just… very keen, very appreciative of me and I’m no picture. I’ve been through the mill and I’ve got the marks to prove it. He lapped it up.’

‘Did he have much money?’ I butted the cigarette in the seashell; the old tart fanned the smoke away from her face irritably and reached under her gown to scratch. I decided she was closer to sixty than forty.

‘He didn’t have much money,’ she said slowly, ‘but enough. Most of what he had must have gone on booze.’

‘What did he drink?’

‘Everything, but he never got really pissed. He was big, see? I mean really big,’ she tapped the pictures. ‘These don’t show it. He must have been close to fifteen stone and getting heavier. I suppose he could carry a lot of grog.’

‘All right, now let’s try to pin it down a bit. When did this letter from Canberra come?’

‘About a year ago, October or November last year. Look, what is all this…?’

‘Tell you in a minute. Did he say what was in the letter or give you any idea of what he was doing?’

‘Not a bloody clue. He came here two or three times a week for six months or so, we had a few drinks and we…’ she waved at the bed. ‘Sometimes he stayed the night, not often He paid up and we didn’t talk hardly at all. As often as not he was drunk when he lobbed in and he stayed drunk; he always brought grog with him.’

‘What did he wear?’


‘Might give me an idea of what he was doing or where he lived.’

‘Yeah, I suppose it could. Let me see now.’ She resumed the hand in chin position and seemed to be enjoying herself. Somehow she gave out a lot of warmth and I would have been enjoying her company if I hadn’t been so tense about the information. ‘I never saw him in a suit, that means he wasn’t a professional man, right?’

I smiled. ‘Right,’ I said.

‘He wore jeans and T shirts I think, jumper sometimes… boots I think.’

‘Anything distinctive — tattoo, scar, jewellery?’

‘No, nothing like that. Oh, he was very brown.’


‘Yeah, sort of.’

‘But not really like a tan?’

‘No, it was a yellowish colour and very even all over. He must have been a nudist.’

Something was beginning to come through, a faint buzz, a distant hum that promised a connection, a link. I closed my eyes and let the synapses tick before I asked the next question. She looked at me expectantly.

‘Tell me, Honey, was this fifteen stone all fat?’

‘Oh shit no, didn’t I say? He’s a muscle man, or he was. He was getting a bit flabby from the drink but he had muscles like this.’ She lifted her arm and flexed it in the strongman-admiring-his-bicep pose.

I smiled at her and she smiled back and rotated her wrist; I could imagine the ounce of muscle sliding along under the skin.

‘Where did you meet him Honey?’ I said quietly.

‘I picked him up outside the Spartacus Health Studio. Know it?’


‘Pitt Street, bottom end, it used to be a good spot in the old days. I was just going past this night, not really looking. Well, I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, not any more. He was coming out and he was really something, Hercules you know? I must have looked at him right because he said something and there we were.’

I believed it, every word. It all hung together, the athletics, the adulation, the muscle-building, maybe the dissipation, too. And other things made sense. I was itching to get back to my notes, to tie things together with arrows and signs for a equals b. I was staring straight at Honey while doing this thinking and she became agitated, her blue-veined hands started fluttering and plucking at the frill on her cushion.

‘Ah, you said you’d tell me about this,’ she said hesitantly. ‘It’s not political is it? I don’t want to know if it’s political.’

‘Why do you ask that?’

‘Oh, Canberra and that.’

‘No, it’s not political. It’s about old ladies looking for lost boys and rotten apples in barrels and people not getting what they deserve.’

She yawned, she was used to babblers. ‘You said something about paying me,’ she said.

‘Do you know anything more about this guy, Honey? Anything at all? Did he have a car?’ I was clutching, reaching for little confirmatory details that would bolster up the theory I was building.

‘No, I never saw a car. Hey where’re you going? What about the money?’

I got up and pulled out my wallet, released a twenty and five and let them flutter down onto the bed. She looked at them with disappointment shaping her eyebrows and pouting lips.

‘I thought there’d be more.’

I reached down and patted the purple hair, partly out of curiosity. ‘You’ve been a great help, Honey. Tell you what, if it all works out I’ll buy you a present. What d’you need?’

‘A facelift.’

I thought of other faces, faces changed by time and booze and distress. My most recent picture of Warwick Baudin was more than eight years old. I wondered if I’d know him.

‘I’ll see what I can do,’ I said. ‘Talking of faces, is Warwick recognisable from the pictures?’ I bent and gently retrieved the prints.

She shrugged. ‘I dunno. Warwick is it? It just said W on the letter. I recognised him but I’m good with faces — depends how good you are with faces.’

Fair enough. I patted the hair again, it was stiff with spray and dye and chemicals. ‘I hope it all works out Honey, I’ll be in touch.’

She muttered something I didn’t catch and I left the room and went down the stairs and out of the house. The sun had broken through again and the day was bright and glaring but Inge wasn’t on her chair any more. Honey Gully didn’t come out on her balcony to wave me goodbye — all the good whores were indoors waiting for the day to end.


My theory was built on hints and mortared up with guesses and intuitive leaps. I worked on it as I plodded through the steamy heat towards my car. Richard Selby looked to be at the bottom of it; I assumed he was Henry Brain’s benefactor, the one who had set the works in motion and had followed up by talking to young Booth, the lawyer. He had a stake in it, his wife and kids were in line for the Chatterton money or threatened with the cold shoulder. He had a lot to lose but the question was — how had he got into the game? The obvious answer was in response to something dropped from Henry Brain’s wagging, alcoholic tongue.

The car was a sweat-box; I wound the windows down and drove along with the other perspiring prisoners down past the park to lower Pitt Street. I parked a few blocks from the station, stuck the. 38 in my pants and hit the street. The place was listed in the book and I reached it in a couple of minutes. There were two windows above an army disposals store; one said Spartacus and the other said Health Studio in big, freshly painted letters. I went up a narrow staircase and met the same words again, this time on two plate glass doors. Smaller letters said that the manager of the establishment was Leonidas Green. I went into a small room formed by six-foot-high movable partitions. A girl was sitting at a desk reading a magazine, smoking and drinking coffee from a polystyrene cup. Her yellow hair fell down from a centre part that ran like a white scar along her skull. She looked up and gave me a fifty carat smile with capped teeth, red lips and eyes like jewelled spiders.

‘Good afternoon sir,’ she breathed, ‘are you interested in building your body?’

‘Not really, I need a new one.’

She smiled at lower voltage. She was wearing a sleeveless dress the colour of her hair and an even, sun-lamp tan; she drew on her cigarette and showed me her profile when she blew the smoke away. Her voice was phoney-American.

‘How can I help you?’

‘Is Mr Green around?’

‘He’s very busy. If you could tell me your business.’

I cave her a card. ‘A few questions, no trouble.’

‘I’ll see.’ She got up and came sashaying around the desk on three-inch heels.

‘I’ll see, too,’ I said and went through the gap in the partitions with her.

We went into a gleaming room about sixty feet long by thirty wide. The polished boards gleamed, chrome barbells and other equipment gleamed, but the gleamingest things of ill were the mirrors that ran around all four walls. There was even a mirror on the back of the partition that formed the reception room. They ran from floor level up to the height of a tall man and after taking a few steps into the room I felt as though I was surrounded. The girl swayed over to where three men were throwing a medicine ball around. They stood about ten feet apart at the points of a triangle and they were heaving the big ball hard, mixing up low and high throws. We stood back and watched for a minute and when one of the players missed his catch the girl stepped forward.

‘Mr Green, there’s a gentleman to see you.’

The shortest man in the group, a chunky guy with crisp curling grey hair, jerked his head around impatiently.

‘Not now Ronnie, tell him to come back later.’

I moved around Ronnie and stepped up to him. He was about five ten and four feet across the shoulders; muscles bulged everywhere under his black singlet. He was middle-aged but the skin on his face was tight and smooth. The other two were carbon copies — six-footers with waved hair and vacant expressions. Their muscles looked to be trying to burst out of their singlets and shorts and run away to start life on their own.

‘Let’s make it now,’ I said. ‘It won’t take a minute and then you can go back to playing ball.’

The Adonis on the left suddenly flicked the medicine ball at me, I moved aside and it hit Ronnie in the stomach. She collapsed and coffee from her cup flew everywhere and her cigarette dropped onto a canvas mat. Green swooped on the butt and snarled at the ball-thrower.

‘You fuck-wit Kurt, go and get a mop.’

The other man helped Ronnie up; her spider eyes blazed and she shook off his hand. Green was holding the smoking butt between two fingers as if it were a dead mouse.

‘I’ve told you not to smoke in here Ronnie,’ he said. ‘Go away, I’ll talk to you later.’ He passed the cigarette to her and bent down again to pick up my card which the girl had dropped. He read the card and clapped his hand to his forehead theatrically.

‘Oh my God, what do you want?’ He eyed me professionally and noticed the bulge. ‘Keep the gun where it is will you? I’ve got some sensitive people here, they’re likely to faint at the sight of a gun.’

Kurt was back with a mop soaking up the spilt coffee. The other he-man had wandered off towards a wall. He picked up a small bar-bell and began moving it one-handed from waist level to shoulder; he turned sideways and looked lovingly at the overblown muscles in his upper arm. I pulled out the photographs and gave them to Green.

‘I’m looking for this man. Do you know him?’

He gave them a bored glance. ‘Hard to tell, I don’t think so.’

‘Look again, it’s important.’

‘Just who do you think you are? I’ve said I don’t recognise him.’

Raised voices and a flurry of movement took our attention to the end of the room.

Green groaned, ‘Not again,’ and hurried off towards the commotion. Kurt shouldered his mop and followed; his mate moved in front of the mirror like an entranced Narcissus. At the far end of the room, away from the windows, four men were gathered around two who were lying on a canvas mat. A big, fat character who was polishing one of the mirrors stopped work and turned to watch the others. The men on the floor were stripped to their athletic supports and they lay in a line with the soles of their feet touching.

‘What’s going on?’ I asked Green.

‘A bet,’ he said grudgingly. He addressed one of the men on the mat. ‘What is it this time Carl, five hundred?’

Carl put his hands out behind his head and took a grip on a medicine ball. ‘Seven fifty,’ he grunted. Green shrugged. ‘Fifty against,’ he said.

‘You’re on Leo,’ said one of the watchers, a tall, heavily muscled citizen with a widow’s peak of slick black hair. Kurt and one of the other body-builders got their bets down and Carl’s companion flipped himself up into a squatting position, still keeping his feet braced against Carl’s.

‘Carl’s betting he can get the medicine ball up to where Saul can touch it and back above his head seven hundred and fifty times. It’s murder on the laterals, want to bet?’

‘No,’ I said but despite myself I was interested. Carl looked to have the equipment for the job; his stomach was quilted with muscle and his neck and arms were grotesque storehouses of power.

The mirror cleaner had let the fluid dribble down the surface and there were bubbles of spittle beside his mouth which was slack and open; fat clustered around his neck and sat in a great roll around his waist under a stained T shirt. Apart from me he was the only man in the room without perfect muscle tone.

Carl came up in an easy, oiled movement with the medicine ball outstretched, Saul patted it and down he went and up, and down and up like a machine set to stamp out a thousand identical parts. After a hundred, great ropes of veins stood out in his neck and forehead and sweat ran in the clefts around his perfectly defined muscles. At two fifty his breath was coming in short gusts and I was betting mentally against him; everyone in the room was riveted except the mirror-gazer who kept on pumping and admiring the result. I glanced across and saw Ronnie, on tip-toe looking over the partition. A man came past her and up to Green but I was too interested in the contest to notice him: Carl had passed five hundred now and the spectators were counting, softly, rhythmically, five sixty-one, five sixty-two, sixty-three..

I saw a movement in the mirror and moved but I was too late to miss the punch altogether; Leonidas Green’s fist took me under the ear and toppled me sideways. I fell sprawling over Carl and Saul and the rhythm was broken and the men started to swear. Green came at me again and I ducked and rolled over and was on my feet. I moved into him and hooked him in the stomach and it was like punching a tree. He came on and I kicked him in the knee. He buckled and I hit him flush on the nose. Carl and Saul were on their feet shoving at each other and yelling and one of the muscle men came at me with a short, chromium bar in his hand; I let him swing it and put the heel of my hand hard into his face when he was off balance — blood spattered from his nose over the mirror. For a measureless instant I saw it all in reflection — Carl and Saul wrestling, and another man on the floor with blood welling through his fingers and Green on his knees yelling for someone to take me out. Then I was spinning around, backing up to the glass and pulling one of the muscle men with me when something sailed over my shoulder and shattered the mirror. The glass showered us and big sections of the mirror split and felt like guillotine blades. The noise stopped the action and I got my gun out and pointed it at Green’s gut.

‘Tell them to give us room Green,’ I panted, ‘or I’ll blow a hole in you. Tell them!’

Green waved his arms like a man signalling a plane in. ‘Go away,’ he moaned, ‘go away. Oh Christ look at the place, what a mess.’

The fat man had melted away somewhere leaving his mirror clouded and streaky, another six-foot stretch of glass was blood spattered and broken pieces littered the floor. There was a deep gouge in the polished boards where the thrown bar-bell had landed after it hit the mirror. I wasn’t feeling so good myself.

Green got up off his knees and I signalled him with the gun to move to a corner where there was a chair and a low bench. He moved and did some more arm waving.

‘Leave us alone. Kurt, Carl, get this mess cleaned up and piss off. We’re closed.’

He seemed to have the authority he needed and some to spare. Two of them picked up the man whose face I’d smashed and carried him like a baby. A section of the mirror swung out and led to a locker-room and storeroom evidently, because they came back with brooms and wet towels and got to work on the devastation.

Green plonked himself down on the bench and gave me and my gun an ugly look.

‘Do you know what those mirrors cost?’ he barked.

‘I didn’t throw it,’ I said. ‘I didn’t want any trouble. Now I’m going to ask you again, do you know anything about the man in those pictures?’

He paused and looked keenly at me; his eyes seemed to be mocking me or maybe they were just hostile. ‘I said I didn’t know him,’ he said deliberately.

I brought the gun up a few inches but he knew I wouldn’t use it; we both knew it. He relaxed and I wondered if he was thinking about trying to take me, but there was a deep cut under his knee, bruised around the edges and dripping blood, and I didn’t think he’d risk it.

‘Why did you start all that?’

He shrugged. ‘I don’t like coppers of any kind.’

‘Bullshit. Who was the guy who spoke to you when Carl hit the five hundred?’

The eyes mocked or were hostile again. ‘Nobody. He was putting on a bet.’

I looked at the clean-up gang. ‘Where is he now?’

‘Didn’t you see?’ Green sneered. ‘He got in the way of some of the glass, I imagine he’s gone for stitches.’

I tried to bring the man’s features back and up into focus but I couldn’t. I hadn’t bothered to look at him closely, I’d been too interested in the stupid medicine ball game. He was big and dark, I had that much, but nearly all of them were big and dark.

‘What’s his name?’

‘I’m not going to tell you. What are you going to do — shoot me?’ He laughed and ran his hand over the grey hair.

‘There’s a racket here,’ I said. ‘I can smell it.’

‘No racket here, my friend, I make men into the men they want to be. That’s all.’ He started to stand up and let out a gasp when the weight fell on his injured leg. He slumped down onto the bench. ‘You’ve cost me money. I wouldn’t come around here again if I was you.’ He drew in a breath and yelled, ‘Ronnie!’

The girl stuck her head around the partition, she saw the gun and pulled back out of sight.

Green yelled again. ‘Ronnie, get me the first aid box… and bring a hand-out over here.’

She came teetering across the boards as the clean-up finished. Her eyes were big and frightened and her expensive top teeth were chewing on her ripe lower lip. She was carrying a white case about the size of a shoe-box and a piece of foolscap-sized, buff-coloured paper fluttered in her hand.

Green stuck out his leg. ‘Clean this up, Ronnie.’ He took the paper from her, folded it down the middle and handed it to me.

‘This is a legitimate business, probably more legitimate than yours. Have this in exchange for your crummy card.’

I put the gun away and took the paper, feeling bad. It had the name of the joint printed stylishly across the top with a photo of Green striking a pose beside it. I put it in my pocket and got up. I had nothing more to say. I felt that if I threatened to shoot out all his mirrors Green would still laugh at me. I was preoccupied with the thought that Warwick Baudin and my bonus and everything else that mattered might have passed within touching distance of me. Green swore when Ronnie started in on his wound and I felt a little better about it all.

I unshipped the. 38 when I passed Ronnie’s desk and watched for vengeful lurkers on the stairs but there was no one. The disposals store bristled with bayonets and knives and there was a gun-shop next to that; the place was high on weapons and low on intelligence and I included myself in that. I bought coffee and some aspirin in the next block and sat rubbing the sore spot near my ear and wondering about my next move. I pulled out the Spartacus Studio’s blurb and looked it over: Leonidas had his name in about ten times and there were testimonials to the efficacy of his courses from satisfied Mr Victorias and Mr Queenslands. A name near the bottom of the screed took my eye — the supplier of weight-lifting and gymnasium equipment to the studio was Richard Selby.


I was doing it all by reflex now, bouncing from point to point and not initiating anything, but that’s the way things break sometimes and I had the feeling that my bounces were taking me closer to the nerve centre of whatever the hell was going on. Selby’s firm was listed — the Titan Gymnasium I Equipment Co. Its factory and office were in St Peters, a short drive, but a hot, bustly one in four o’clock traffic. I dragged myself back to the car and broke all the rules about drug use by swigging some of the Irish whisky before I started and smoking a cigarette as I drove.

I passed the dark, satanic chimneys that landmark St Peters and started threading through the streets that are a mixture of light-industry, factories and terrace houses. Selby’s place was a big, red-brick structure with a flat face sitting flush with the pavement. It had big roller doors at either end and a glass-panelled door in the middle. The word Titan was written across the front, the letters being composed of strokes in the shape of barbells.

I sat in my car watching the place, smoking, and wondering how to tackle Selby. Maybe I could strongarm him into telling me what he knew about Brain and Bettina’s child and Warwick Baudin and maybe I couldn’t. Maybe he didn’t know or someone else was using him. It was a tangled skein with the deaths of Brain and Callaghan as knots and the lost Chatterton at the end of the string. I was musing, stalling like this when two men came out of the centre door. The shorter man, wearing a yellow blazer and tan slacks, was Selby. His face was brick red in the sunlight and his oiled, black locks glistened. The other man was a few inches taller and very broad; he was wearing a fawn suit and his face was partly s wathed in fresh, white bandages. I watched them talking for a while and then had to gulp for air; I realised that I’d been holding my breath. They talked intently for a few minutes but then Selby clapped the other on the arm and went back into the building. The man with the bandages stood for a moment squinting against the sun; I strained my eyes at him willing him to be the man I wanted but I couldn’t be sure. He was about six foot two and his hair was dark but his features were disguised by the wrappings. His clothes were good without being hand-made; he looked fit but a bit on the heavy side: it was possible.

He walked over to a blue Datsun and got in it by bending the right places at the right time. I tagged along trying to feel confident that I had the fish in the net, but full of doubt. He stopped in Newtown for a paper and had his car checked right around; wherever he was going he wasn’t in a hurry. His next stop was at Victoria Park where he sat on a bench and read the paper. Then he smoked a cigarette. I did the same fifty yards away sitting in my car with the beginnings of a bladder problem. He strolled across to a telephone booth, not far enough from his car to give me time to do anything about my bladder, and did some nattering. Then another cigarette, then some tie-straightening and comb work in the side mirror and he was ready to go.

The traffic had thinned out in Broadway and we took it nice and easy and turned right into Park Street. After the two soapy shaves in Canberra I’d stood back a bit with the razor and my face was blue and bristling. I’d talked to whores and he-men and had taken one smart tap from a man who knew how to dish it out. We were heading up towards the Cross and I wasn’t in condition for a disco or blackjack den, but on reflection neither was the man in the Datsun. He looked in need of a good meal and some loving kindness; that made me think of Kay and my promise to ring her. I had almost two hours in hand.

We by-passed the Cross and went through Rushcutters Bay where the Stadium used to be — where the crowds came to see the men punching each other for the fame and the money until there was no fame and no money in it any more. And nobody wore hats any more the way all those men did and no one would ever smoke again the way they did, so guiltlessly. Now there were pricey boats tossing on the water; there were waiting lists for those moorings and people scanned the death notices hoping for a name to appear so that they could move up in the queue and tuck their own little fifty thousand dollar dream up near Sir lan’s and Sir Abraham’s.

We climbed and took some turns and suddenly I knew where I was — right, slap-dab in millionaires’ row and the Datsun was turning into Lady Catherine’s drive and I was going past with things dropping into place in my mind like snooker balls being run into the pockets. The man driving the Datsun into the Chatterton residence had been driving it out when I’d last come calling, and that little blue car was the self-same one that had been parked on Nurse Callaghan’s land the night I got my skull dented.

I waited an hour, getting more impatient and uncomfortable by the minute. I took in a little more whisky and a little more tobacco. A few expensive cars purred past and I prayed that the cops would be far away keeping the lower classes in order where they belonged — in that street the Falcon stuck out like a clown at a funeral. I kept low and was considering risking my aim into an empty beer can when the Datsun came out of the drive. I hung well back and let him pick up a couple of other cars as we headed back to the city. He drove fast and well, moving between the lanes and judging the lights; Warwick Baudin had had some car trouble, I’d been told, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t a good driver.

He turned into Macquarie Street and headed down towards the water. I got close, closer than is classical and confirmed that there was a woman in the car beside the driver. The impression I got was of thinness — Verna Reid. It looked as though they were headed for the Opera House which was good because I could get a parking place there and bad because there were a dozen different places they could go. I stayed close and parked a few cars behind them. He was gallant with the car door and his arm and Miss Reid hung on tight; she would have had her head on his shoulder if she could, but she’d have had to jump to get it there. They ambled on towards the billowing sails, the box offices and the Bollinger ‘71. I followed, gunless, innocent and with a bursting bladder.

They turned a few heads as they promenaded. You don’t see a six-foot-three Hercules with his face in bandages boulevading with a handsome eagle-faced woman every day. I kept back in case Verna looked around and tried to blend in with the tourists and the lookers and the buyers. They hung over the rail watching the ferries pull in and out and the plastic bottles bobbing in the water for a while and then made their way around to the restaurant. I felt like cheering; if they only had the soup and salad it’d still give me time for a piss. I hung around for a minute to make sure they were settled and then set off in search of a facility. That was when I saw him or sensed him. The first rule in following people is not to make any sudden movements; you can pick up a quick movement even when it’s outside your field of vision — an atavistic instinct maybe. As I turned around to go down the steps from the restaurant I caught a disturbance of the landscape behind me and to my left. I hopped down the steps and turned the first corner and put the antennae up: there were a few strollers and purposeful walkers about and there was someone following me.

He was still there when I went into the toilet and still there when I came out. I wandered about, getting the lie of the land and waiting for a few evening shadows to fall. The lights of the city and the expensive suburbs across the harbour started to do their job and the water turned from a soft blue to green and then to a flinty grey. The revellers went to their revels and I walked to the end of the point and ducked in flat to the wall around a corner. He came on. His feet were quiet but I thought I could hear the rasp of his breath and I fancied I could smell him. When he came around the corner I slammed my fist into his gut and twisted his arm like an elastic band. I rushed him over to the rail, thumped his back into it and bent him. Albie Logan looked up at me with big, round, frightened eyes like a frog about to give its life for science.

‘Well, well,’ I said nastily, ‘it’s Mrs Logan’s boy Albert. Now just what would you be doing here?’

He didn’t answer so I took him off the rail an inch or two and put him back on it hard. He yelped.

‘Turn it up Slim, you’re breaking me back.’

I did it again. ‘Why are you following me, Albie?’

‘I wasn’t,’ he said and then he yelped again as I bounced his spine off the rail.


‘I was… hired to,’ he gasped.

‘You’re lousy at it. Who hired you?’

‘I dunno his name.’

I looked around. We were alone on the concrete peninsula. Albie was wearing a suit and tie and I yanked the tie off and pulled the handkerchief out of his breast pocket.

‘Can you swim Albie?’

‘Not good,’ he stammered.

‘Tell you what I’m going to do. If you don’t speak up and answer every question I ask you to my satisfaction, I’m going to tie you up with this,’ I showed him the tie, ‘and stuff this in your gob and drop you over here. You’re a dealer — who’d give a fuck?’

He turned his head to look at the water; it was dark with an ugly, metallic sheen.

‘Okay, okay, give me some air.’

I eased back a bit. ‘Who?’ I said.

‘The same guy you’re following.’

That jolted me. ‘What’s his name?’

‘Russell James, or so he tells me.’

‘You said you didn’t know Miss Reid had a boyfriend.’

‘I didn’t. I couldn’t believe it when I saw them together tonight.’

I was confused, but it felt like the confusion that comes before clarity.

‘When did James ask you to follow me?’

‘Couple of days ago, after you’d come to my dump. I looked but you weren’t around. I picked you up today.’

I tightened my grip because I was angry at my own carelessness. ‘Do you do much of this Albie? Following people?’

‘Easy,’ he gasped. ‘Not usually.’

‘How long have you known James? Customer is he?’

‘Sort of. Known him a couple of years but he only started buying a while back.’

‘He doesn’t look the type. How long back?’

‘ ‘Bout a year. There’s all sorts of people on drugs, Slim.’

‘I told you not to call me that,’ I snarled. ‘Where’d you meet him?’

‘Pub in the Cross.’

‘Jesus. The Noble Briton?’

‘I think so, yeah, how’d you know?’

‘I guessed. Do you drink there often?’

He hesitated. ‘No, well…’

I bent him over the rail a bit more. ‘You’re not off the hook yet, Albie. I want it all. If you make me happy I’ll let you go on another one of your train trips and you can come back with a suitcase of shit. If you don’t you’re history. Now, you were saying?’

‘Well, I really met him in this whorehouse in Darlinghurst. We sort of got talking and went for a drink to the Briton. I saw him on and off at Honey’s, ah…’

‘I know Honey,’ I said. ‘Go on.’

‘He spent some dough, drinks and that. And he helped me to move a few things, you know. Then he started buying, if you ask me it was for someone else.’


‘I dunno.’ I twisted. ‘I dunno. Shit, easy!’

‘What did you talk about, you and James? Did he ask you about your old job with the Chattertons?’

‘Yeah, I suppose he did. Yeah we talked about that.’

‘What does he do?’

‘He never told me.’

‘You didn’t ask?’

‘No, look I was pissed half the time, or high.’

‘What does he buy?’

‘Fuckin’ near anything — grass, speed, coke sometimes. Mostly speed and downers. He bought a big load when I seen him last.’

‘You told him about my visit?’

‘Yeah, well I was feeling pretty pissed off. I was just talking and then he put it on me to follow you. He said we could get you in the shit. He was gonna pay me.’ He looked down at the water again. ‘I’m sorry,’ he gulped.

‘You should be.’ I heard sounds, voices, feet on the stones, and judged that people would be coming out of the cinema for a smoke. I moved Albie away from the rail keeping a strong grip on his arm and walked him down towards the car park. He was shaking and his colour was bad. We walked down between the ranks of cars and I backed him up against a VW Kombi van in a shadow.

‘Have a smoke, Albie.’

He got out his cigarettes and lit up. The flame jumped around his hand and his eyes were pin-pointed with fear or drug need or both. He blew the smoke towards me and quickly fanned it away with his hand.

‘Albie, this is a rough game you’re in. Two people are dead before their time and your mate with the bandages hit me over the head from behind a few nights ago. So I’m not happy with him and I’m not happy about a dirty little creep like you following me around.’

He drew nervously on his cigarette and didn’t say anything.

‘Now you are a lucky man,’ I went on, ‘because you are fat and short and I don’t feel like belting you. I suggest you go on an interstate run tomorrow and then take your holidays or something. If I hear you’re in Sydney I’ll make a couple of phone calls and you’ll be out of a job and the narc squad’ll be picking your teeth for you. Clear?’

‘Sure, sure.’

I shovelled the tie and handkerchief into the front of his coat. ‘Piss off, Albie.’

He sidled along, keeping his back to the van until he was clear of it and then he took off fast towards the comforting lights of the Quay. I made a cigarette and smoked it slowly while I pieced things together — Henry Brain, the Noble Briton, Russell James (as he called himself), Honey Gully, Richard Selby and Verna Reid, all interlocked in a pattern of calculation and deception. It looked as if Brain had run into Baudin in the Cross, noticed his powerful resemblance to the Chattertons, and spilled some of the story to him. Baudin could have known Selby through the Spartacus Studio and together they could have sent Brain up to Lady C to gauge her reaction. Getting nothing they switched to working through Verna Reid in some way. It fitted a lot of the facts; Russell James told Verna Reid he was a property developer; Keir’s $1,500 could have been used to finance that, either for real or as a front. Whatever the tactic my turning up must have thrown them into a spin — exit Brain and Callaghan. It had holes in it: if James was Baudin why didn’t he just declare himself and claim the loot? But there was a possible explanation for that — Lady Catherine’s wish to find the grandson might be a secret she’d confided only to me. Selby’s involvement could be complex, he could be in collusion with Reid and James or be playing another angle — in the normal course of things his wife was in line for a big slice of the pie anyway. Then there was the mystery of the Chatterton will, there could be something in that which necessitated a waiting game.

I finished the cigarette and looked out across the water in a mood of mild self-congratulation. I checked back over my reconstruction and didn’t find anything too inconvenient although the Chatterton heir’s character was looking blacker every minute. I walked quickly back to the restaurant and suddenly I was breaking all my own rules, moving hastily and obtrusively for cover at the foot of the steps — under a harsh neon light the big man with the bandaged face and his dark-eyed friend were stepping it out towards their car.


Verna Reid and Russell James were quarrelling; they kept well apart and their heads jerked as they snapped and snarled. Watching them, I dodged about on the other side of the road like a boxer trying to stay out of trouble on the ropes. James slipped quickly into his mildly aggressive driving style. The Toyota took the corners with practised ease and pulled familiarly up into Richard and Bettina Selby’s driveway. I skulked on for a hundred yards before killing the lights, putting the keys under the seat, arming myself and heading up the street to do some genuine, in the field, sleuthing.

No front gate, no alert dog in the front yard, no kids’ toys to trip over. I padded up past the Toyota; the Honda Accord was missing but a Chev was there instead. Lights were on in the back of the house and there was a soft, green glow from the pool which looked cool, inviting and uncomplicated. A heavy thumping, like a fist beating on tin, caused me to duck down into the shadows near the garage. I poked my head around the corner and saw the man in the fawn suit knocking his knuckles on the back door.

‘Richard!’ His voice was high and urgent. ‘Richard, where the hell are you?’

Where indeed? It hadn’t looked like a chance call and I’d expected to find them cosy over a beer with their ties loosened.

He kept on knocking and nothing kept happening, then he started to swear rather nastily and display a considerable bad temper by kicking the door. The gun. was biting into my gut and I was getting cramped in the squatting position; I uncoiled cautiously and inched along trying to get a better view of the man assaulting the door. It ail happened very fast — a car door slammed and I spun around and then something hit me in the stomach very hard. It bent me over and I had an impression of a wide, light shape near me and then my upper right arm was stinging like hell and I was throwing a long punch that went on and on to nowhere.

I was only a quarter of a man or less after that: the two of them dragged me into the house. I couldn’t move but I could hear all right.

‘She’s away with the kids,’ Selby said.

My head bumped against something as the other man spoke.

‘Easy,’ Selby grunted. ‘Albie phoned, I was ready for this bastard half an hour ago.’

Albie, I thought. Rotten little Albie, fucking Albie…

They let me down roughly onto carpet that felt like marble.

‘How long’ll he be out?’

‘It varies,’ Selby said. ‘That stuff puts some people under for hours and others hardly go out at all. Let’s have a look at him.’

The smart thing seemed to be one of the susceptible; I let my eyelids drop and my head loll. I felt hands grab bits of my face and then I was on the carpet slab again.

I didn’t have to act too hard: I was lying still but felt as if I was swimming and there was a roaring in my head like an eternal wave breaking over me. I heard snatches of their conversation through the foam.

‘What are we going to do with this character?’

‘You were supposed to find out tonight,’ Selby said.

Then Verna Reid chipped in: ‘He tried but I just don’t know! She’s kept it all to herself.’

I snuck a look through a shuttered eye; they were in armchairs but tense and nervous. Verna Reid was wearing her basic black which suited her fierce, hostile mood. Selby was wearing jeans and a white shirt, his face was scarlet above the snowy cloth. He was drinking what looked like scotch and the other man clinked bottles and ice and made himself something, too. I was parched and hearing a howling wind now along with the boom of the surf. I was slipping under and coming up, hearing words and missing some, and I was suddenly cold from my scalp to my big toes.

‘We have to settle it,’ Selby was saying. ‘Is he up at the river?’

‘Should be by now. But what if…’

‘It’s all ifs. We have to make a move, we have to find out.’

‘What about him?’

The roaring and booming blotted out the rest of it and I felt them take hold of me again and move me. I summoned up everything and tried to fight them but for all the difference it made I might have been a butterfly. They dragged me easily with their weight-lifters’ strength and they didn’t care when parts of me hit things. I didn’t care much either. I wanted to sleep, to curl up in a ball and sleep, and then I remembered Kay and that I hadn’t called her and I heaved and strained at them and said uncomplimentary words that felt like stones in my mouth. They must have bumped me into something then or hit me because it all slid away; the noises stopped and I tobogganed down into darkness and silence.

Coming to was like being born — I struggled down a long, dark tunnel, not wanting to get to the end but not in control of what was happening. I was pushed and pulled towards a circle of light which grew bigger and bigger until it filled my whole field of vision and blinded me. I felt as if I’d been folded in half and put in a box. In fact I was sitting with my knees drawn up to my chin: I tried to lower my legs but they only got half way before they bumped into something. I shook my head and forced my eyes open and saw a wall; I felt a wall behind me and a hard surface under me. I was in a shower stall, my hands were tied behind me and my feet were strapped together at the ankles. Pains like cramps were shooting through me and my throat was as dry as a chalk duster. At first I thought the light tapping I could hear was inside my head but I found it was a steady drip from the shower rose. The drop fell about a foot in front of me but I couldn’t lean far enough forward to get my tongue out to it — my whole body was thirsty. It was torture.

I had no idea of the time, lights were on in the room but I couldn’t see a window. It could have been midnight or midday. I wasted some time cursing myself for carelessness and incompetence, and wasted some breath by shouting for help. Then I calmed down and became more practical: I listened, the house was dead quiet. I pulled at the cord holding my ankles and at whatever was around my wrists — nothing gave. I looked around as best I could but the stall was tiled and smooth, there was nothing to cut with or rub against. So I shouted again and choked and was sick all over my legs and everything was just that much worse. I tried kicking at the wall but the thing was built solid and I only succeeded in sending jarring pains shooting up into my crutch. I tried to roll and found that my wrists were tied to something firm — no rolling.

It was hard. The thirst and the cramps and the smell were bad but the feeling of helplessness was destructive. It washed over me in waves making me rave and struggle and then leaving me defeated, almost indifferent. The drug was still working; I blanked out a few times. I had bursts of cold anger and mushy self-pity; I did no clear thinking. I was in one of the indifferent stages when I heard the noises — a door opened far away, there were footsteps and other indeterminate sounds. I hardly cared, or thought I was imagining it. I smiled and felt the caked vomit on my face crack — ho hum. Then the noises were closer and then they were going away with a final sound to them. They were real. I shouted and thumped my feet on the wall; I howled like a wolf.

High heels rang on the tiles and the shower curtain jerked aside: Bettina Selby stood there, the most wonderful person in the world, a goddess, a saint.

‘Jesus Christ,’ she breathed.

I croaked up at her: ‘Water, and get a knife.’

An hour later I was sitting in her kitchen with a third cup of coffee and wearing one of her husband’s shirts. I was shaved, fairly clean and if not quite back to normal at least I could remember what normal felt like. Bettina had been fast and cool with the necessaries. She told me that she’d planned to stay a week with a friend but had come back for something she’d forgotten — the thought of a week in the shower stall made my guts turn over. I drank coffee and made a cigarette; I hadn’t explained one damn thing to her and it was time. She was wearing an off the shoulder dress in a floral print and big wedge heels and looked good enough to eat. It was 11 a.m. on Tuesday, she told me, as she poured herself a hefty brandy. I accepted a slug of the same in my coffee.

‘So, Mr Kennedy, was it?’

‘Hardy,’ I said. ‘That was all a line. What did your husband say after our fracas?’

‘Business trouble. But it’s not is it?’

‘No. It’s family trouble, I’m working for your mother — I’m a private detective.’

She’d seen me flatten her husband and she’d found me trussed up like a chicken and covered in vomit. She knew I’d lied to her once; she drank some brandy and looked interested but sceptical. I got out the photoprints, unfolded them and passed them across. She took a quick look.

‘A boy and a man,’ she said. ‘Not bad looking. So what?’

‘That’s your son, Betty.’

‘Don’t call me that,’ she snapped, and then the message reached her and she pulled hard on her drink.


‘It’s true. He’s thirty-one years old. Take another look, he’s the dead spit of your Dad.’

She looked, looked hard and nodded slowly. Her knuckles were white around the glass and beads of sweat broke out along her hairline. She reached for the bottle.

‘Take it easy,’ I said. ‘Try and face it. This should interest you, it’s a change from booze and bad husbands.’

She smiled and that strength and intelligence that made her arresting shaped the planes of her face.

‘I really gave you the business the other day didn’t I?’

‘You weren’t yourself. I suppose you can guess what this’s all about now?’

‘Some of it. The old battle-axe wants to find him,’ she tapped the pictures, ‘and cut him in.’

‘I think she intends to give him the lot.’

Her eyes opened and she took a thoughtful, not desperate, sip of her drink. ‘How would you know that?’

‘It’s a guess really. There seems to be something strange about your father’s will, or maybe your mother’s. Your hubby’s had a good sniff at that. Miss Reid is out for herself and there’s someone else in there looking for an angle.’

She touched the pictures again. ‘Him?’

‘Could be.’

I told her everything then, more or less the way it had happened. She took Henry Brain’s demise without a blink and cried a bit over Nurse Callaghan. She asked me what I knew about her son.

‘Nothing good,’ I said. ‘He was a star athlete and pretty bright but he got lost somewhere. There was no serious score against him before all this that I know of, but he might have killed the old people. It’s tricky.’

‘I can see that. You want to deliver him all clean and shiny.’

‘That doesn’t look very likely now. Happy endings are hard to come by but you never know. Have you got a place on the river?’

‘Yes, I mean…’

‘Come on, it’s out in the open, you’ve got to see it through now.’

She looked stubborn and we both drank some more and kicked it around for a while. She confirmed that her husband was keenly interested in her mother’s property and had big plans for using it. I told her that it looked as if her husband was trying to get control of it one way or another — through her, or Verna Reid or the grandson.

‘That’s the way he thinks,’ she said, ‘he likes to cover all the angles.’

‘He’s doing all right isn’t he?’ I let my eyes drift around the gadget-laden kitchen.

‘Yes, but he’s ambitious, he wants to be big.’


She shrugged. ‘Don’t know, something to do I suppose. He’s not interested in me or the girls. What’s your next move, Mr Hardy?’ She looked at the bottle and I had the feeling that she was the sort of boozer who rewarded herself with a drink before she tackled anything hard just in case she didn’t make it. I moved the brandy out of reach.

‘I’m going after them, it’s time to break up their little game, get the thing running my way. Where’s this river place?’

She looked at me with her mother’s eyes, calculating.

‘Would you like to go to bed with me?’

‘Sure. Some other time.’ I thought of Kay again as soon as I spoke. I was fifteen hours late with my call; I felt impatient, eager to get the Chatterton case wrapped up, anxious to get on with what might be called my life.

She sighed. ‘I thought you might say that. I’ll take you to the river. If you don’t let me come you can go to hell. It’d take you a while to find out where it is.’

True, I thought, and she might be useful. It was a hell of a situation, impossible to lay down rules for. I was going up against two men I didn’t know. It was important that one of them didn’t get hurt. To take the wife and maybe-mother along could be a good move, she could anticipate how Selby might behave. Or it could be a recipe for disaster.

‘Are there any guns in the place?’

‘Yes, a couple.’

Great. They already had one of mine, I assumed, and there was the drug angle to think about. Who was using the stuff — Selby, Baudin, both of them?

‘Maybe we should get the police,’ Bettina said.

That decided me. The police were out, the last thing Lady C wanted was the prying eye of officialdom — there’d be no bonus for Hardy in that event.

‘No police,’ I said. ‘Let’s keep it in the family. You can come but you do exactly as I say. Right?’

‘All right. D’you want to go now? I’ll change.’

I nodded. She got up with the grace I’d noticed before — when she wasn’t drunk or traumatised she moved like a dancer. When she’d gone I grabbed a phone and dialled Kay’s home number; it rang and rang hopelessly. I hung up feeling numb and empty, also resentful — the Chattertons with their dynastic ambitions and hang-ups and middle class boredoms were a pain in the arse. I felt like a mercenary, disaffected but with no other side to switch to. I was in the mood for Baudin and Selby, guns and all.

Bettina came back wearing jeans and a white Indian shirt; her hair was pulled back and tied and her make-up was subdued. She carried a big leather shoulder bag and looked ready for action.

I picked up my tobacco and other things while she waited; I was still stiff and my arm hurt where the syringe had gone in; otherwise I was in fair shape.

‘Is there much grass up there?’ I asked her.

‘Plenty, why?’

I grabbed the brandy bottle. ‘We’ll take this for snakebite.’


I got my other gun, the Colt, from the Falcon. It’s an illegal gun but a good one. We took the Honda north. The Selbys’ weekender was at Wisemans Ferry, Bettina told me, but that’s all she’d say. She drove well; there wasn’t a lot of traffic but there were a few curly spots and she put the Honda through them with style. As we went I tried to reconstruct what I’d heard while the drug was working on me, but I was aware of gaps. ‘Up the river’ was clear and the intention to come to some decision about things, but not much more than that. I had a feeling that another person was involved — Leonidas Green? Albie Logan? I hoped it was Albie.

Bettina was quiet for a while, concentrating on her driving, and then she started spewing questions at me — about her mother, Henry Brain, Blackman’s Bay. I had a sense of someone pent-up and thirsty for self-knowledge. One thing was clear, she knew that this was a crisis in her life and that the old round of booze and parties and battles with her husband over trivialities was over. I asked her what she’d do with the Chatterton estate if it came to her.

‘I’d like to set up somewhere in the country,’ she said. ‘A farm, you know? Horses… it’d be good for the girls and might straighten me out. I don’t suppose it’ll happen.’

‘Hard to say. It’s your son she’s lining up for the dough.’

‘He could hardly be expected to care about me, I only saw him once.’

I shrugged. ‘He might be tickled pink to meet his Mum.’

‘That isn’t funny,’ she snarled.

‘Sorry, just trying to keep it bright.’

She slammed the Honda through a corner using gears and engine, no brake. ‘Are you ever serious, Hardy?’

‘Nup, I meet too many crooks and liars to be serious.’

She sighed. ‘I think you carry on like that because you’re nervous and don’t know what to do.’

‘That’s what I said.’

We left the highway and began the descent to the river which is big and bold the way rivers ought to be. The Hawkesbury is tidal, salt-water a good way up and has lots of sharks in it — there are also fashionable islands and a prison farm island where they send fashionable offenders like defaulting solicitors. We crept down the road to Wisemans Ferry — the place has been going for about 150 years but still consists of only a few stores and petrol pump. She turned left before the run down to the township and we bounced along a couple of hundred yards of track before she stopped and set the handbrake. We were on a steep hill running down to the river.

‘We’re close,’ she said.

I looked out across the river to the rugged cliff face on the other side; we were only about ninety kilometres from Sydney but it wasn’t too hard to imagine an Aborigine sneaking along that cliff hoping to spear his lunch. I tried to remember all the guff in the instruction manuals they’d thrown at us in Malaya: study the topography, high points, cover, look for exits — it all mattered, but what counted in the end was luck and guts.

‘Where’s the house?’

She pointed down to where two tin roofs glinted in the sun through a canopy of gum leaves.

‘Down there, the house back from the road.’

There was a proprietorial note in her voice and I squinted to get the layout clear. One of the houses did sit a few yards further back from the road and apparently such details counted up here; me, I’d have called it the one with the fibro cement painted white rather than green.

She watched me nervously while I checked the Colt and attended to the basics, like tucking my trousers into my socks and making sure I wasn’t going to lose a shoe heel at a crucial moment.

‘What are you going to do?’

‘First, make sure I don’t get hurt, second try not to hurt anyone else. Try to give them a hell of a fright if I can. Anyone likely to be home next door?’

‘No, they’re real weekenders.’

‘Okay, where would the cars be?’

‘On the other side. We’re sort of near the back here.’

‘Can you show me the way in and let me get a look at the cars as well?’

She nodded. Her lips were tight and she’d lost a bit of her high colour but she looked determined rather than afraid.

‘Let’s go. Remember our deal — you do what you’re told.’

I reached over, took out the keys and dropped them into the door pocket; we got out and I motioned at her not to slam the door. We walked down the road a bit and then took a rabbit track off into the trees. It was steep and Bettina steadied herself expertly on the slim-trunked gums as we went down.

The back fence of the Selbys’ lot was three strands of barbed wire strung on half a dozen rough posts. The words of the old World War I song rang through my mind — ‘hanging on the old barbed wire’ — nasty stuff, anti-people. The scrub came up to within a foot of the fence and afforded cover along its length. I pulled Bettina down.

‘The cars?’

She pointed and set off, bent double, towards the other side of the lot; for a big woman, past her youth, she bent well. I followed and grabbed her arm.

‘You’re enjoying this,’ I said.

‘Yes.’ Her breathing was hard and short — exertion and excitement.

‘I hope you don’t tear your slacks on the wire.’

‘Fuck you.’

Through the feathery leaves I could see the cars parked beside the house — the Chev and the blue Toyota. The house was well maintained, good roof and guttering, fresh paint. I focused on a window and could see a moving shape inside.

‘Richard,’ Bettina whispered.

‘What’s he doing?’

‘Preparing food by the look of it — that’s the kitchen.’

‘This is as good a time as any,’ I said in Bettina’s ear. ‘I’m going in the front and try to catch them with their faces full of food. Give me fifteen minutes and come on in if you don’t hear more than one shot.’

‘What if I do hear shooting?’

‘Is there a town cop?’

‘I think so, yes, there is.’

‘Get him and anyone else useful you can find.’

‘Good luck,’ she said, then she giggled: ‘Wish I had my camera.’

Christ, I thought, that’s all I need, candid shots of Hardy creeping about in the scrub, gun at the ready. The idea relieved some of the tension though: it was a tricky situation going up against armed men I didn’t know, but it wasn’t full-scale war. I moved down the side of the lot towards the front. Beside the house and fifteen feet away was a thick screen of trees: a bird hovered and then dropped in a long, streaking dive behind them. I was snapping, scraping and tearing things as I moved, but I was doing the best I could. I worked down to the cars which had their windows open and the keys in the ignition — the way people leave cars in the country. I put the keys in my pocket.

The Selbys’ cottage was as simple and unpretentious as their suburban house was the opposite. It was a square fibro bungalow set up on brick piers with a deck running along the front. It was also hemmed in with trees so that I had cover up to the deck. I never saw a weekender yet with a decent lock on the door and this was no exception; the man who taught me could have opened it with his thumbnail. I used the stiff plastic and the lock slid in; I held it there, eased the door open, and then freed the lock slowly and without a sound.

The interior was painted cream and there was sea-grass matting on the floor; a door at the end of the passage led to the rooms at the back of the bungalow and, as I stood looking at it, it opened. The man with the bandages and sticking plaster on his face came through and turned his head back to say something in the direction he’d come from and then he became aware of me and his jaw dropped.

I lifted the Colt and put a shot into the wall about a foot above his head; the sound was like thunder in the enclosed space and he stood rock still. I bustled up and stuck the gun in his ribs.

‘Hey,’ he said weakly, ‘hey.’

‘Back up. Get back in there.’

He went like a lamb all the way back to where Richard Selby and Verna Reid were sitting. Selby was lifting a glass of beer to his mouth, the woman yelled and he dropped it; the beer went into his lap and the glass shattered on the floor. I prodded the tall man again.

‘Sit down.’

He did. He’d recovered from the shock and was starting to look me over carefully. His hands were big and thick around the knuckles and joints. He flexed them and shuffled his feet.

‘Don’t try any of that Bruce Lee stuff,’ I told him, ‘I owe you a bit and I’d be glad to get even.’

Selby looked up from mopping his pants. ‘This is overdue, Hardy. It’s time we had a talk.’

I gave him a hard look. They’d have called him Red Richard back in Norman days and admired him for a fine figure of a man. There was lard on him to my eyes and I thought I could see some pink scalp in places through the carefully arranged black locks.

‘I owe you something, too, for that nice work in the garage,’ I said, ‘and I’m a vindictive man. Don’t go smooth on me Selby, I can tie you into one murder, maybe two, and I will if that’s the way you want to play it.’

Verna Reid’s face was tight with malice. She looked at Selby with contempt. ‘I told you we’d have to kill him.’

It wasn’t clear whether he was talking to me or the woman but anyway Selby said: ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ It carried about as much conviction as the warning on a cigarette packet and I let it pass.

The boy with the bandages was more direct. ‘How did you get loose?’ he asked. His voice was deep and educated.

‘You’ll see,’ I said. I jerked the gun at him. ‘Now you are going to take those bandages off.’

Alarm leapt into the voice. ‘Why?’

‘Just do it.’

‘No! Russell no!’ Verna Reid sounded as if she’d heard someone threaten to knock a leg off the Venus de Milo.

James touched the bandages and looked nervously at Selby.

‘I can’t!’

I grinned and raised an eyebrow at him, his voice wasn’t as deep now or as educated.

‘I can’t, I’ve got bad cuts, that mirror at the gym — they’ll scar.’

‘Sonny boy you can end up like Quasimodo for all I care. I’m going to see your face now one way or another. If I have to do it myself I won’t be gentle.’

He looked appealingly at Selby who shrugged. ‘You better do it Russ,’ he said.

‘I’ll need scissors.’ He stood up quickly and pushed his chair back; he was dangerous, a nice mover and with enormous strength packed in the wide shoulders and arms. I needed to defuse him and quickly: I moved up closer raising the gun and then smacked him across the cheek with my left hand. He screamed and I thumped him on the shoulder with the gun.

‘Sit down and start unwrapping!’

He lifted his hand to his face and then let it drop. ‘I can’t.’

The bandages covered most of the upper part of his face leaving good sized slits for his eyes and going down around his chin. I grabbed an end of plaster and yanked. He screamed again and I pulled the tape free and held it in front of his eye slits.

‘Do it, or it’ll be like that all the way.’

He reached up and began fumbling for the ends of the plaster strips. I felt like wincing as he worked them slowly off the surface of the bandage; tears jumped into his eyes and all the fight seemed to have gone out of him. I took time out to look at Selby who was playing with a bread roll on his plate. He looked puzzled, as if he wanted to say something but wasn’t sure what language to speak in. It was a mistake to be distracted — James came at me suddenly, coiling up off the chair like a big cat, his hands out, stiff and deadly. He looked good but he was just a little slow; I side-stepped and swept the flat of the gun against the side of his face and he went down clutching and making tight little agonised grunts.

‘I told you not to be silly,’ I said. ‘Get up.’

He lifted himself up into the chair and his trembling hands worked at the wrappings. Selby didn’t say anything in any language, didn’t move. It took James five minutes and blood started to seep out pretty soon; Verna Reid sobbed quietly. Blood was flowing freely down his face when he eased off the last bandage but his features were plain. He wasn’t Warwick Baudin — nothing like him.


Disappointment hit me like an electric shock; I gaped and felt unsteady on my feet. Bettina Selby’s voice cut through the accumulated tension.

‘It’s not him.’ She stepped in from the passage and her husband’s eyes moved between us both as he got the connection.

‘Not who?’ Blood ran down Russell James’ face and spotted his cream silk shirt.

‘Yes, who?’ Selby got up and took a couple of steps out from the table. I moved and brought the Colt up to cover him but I was hopelessly unprepared. I’d let the gun drop while I’d watched the bandages come off and now I wasn’t sure enough where it was pointing; now there was an extra person in the room and one of the others was moving. These are excuses for the fact that I ended up with my back to a door which had opened. I knew that when I felt something hard and sharp bite into my neck.

‘Put the gun down, Hardy,’ Selby said smugly, ‘or he’ll blow your head off.’

I let the gun drop and turned slowly. The man holding the shotgun was nearly as tall as the one dabbing at his bloodied face. He had an enormous ballooning belly and three chins. His face still wore the idiot grin I’d seen in the health studio when he was cleaning a mirror but the light was better and my eyes were ready to see whatever there was to see — under the fat and behind the grin and the vacant, crazy eyes was Warwick Baudin.

He still wore the battered T shirt, he had old sandshoes on his feet and his jeans were unfastened at the waist to give extra room to his vast gut.

The room was dead quiet. Having made his entrance, the fat man didn’t seem to know what to do next; he looked at Selby and James who appeared to be as scared as I was.

‘I heard the noise,’ he said. His voice was slow and thick as if his tongue was too big for his mouth. He was in a bad way, his hair was lank and greasy and his skin pale and puffy. There was dirt in the folds of flesh on his neck and his pale grey eyes were bleary and rimmed with scum. He didn’t look much like a Chatterton now.

‘Nothing to worry about,’ I said quietly and I put out a tentative hand towards the shot gun.

He threw back his head and let out a high, giggling laugh, but the double barrel stayed where it would cut me in half. Selby who’d nominated himself master of ceremonies a minute ago had lost his confidence; he moved back behind the table and looked as if he’d have liked to crawl under it.

‘He’s ripped out of his mind,’ James said. He looked down at my Colt on the floor which was closer to him than me.

‘Easy,’ I said, ‘he could blast us both. This isn’t worth dying for.’

It was a crazy situation, like being bailed up against a wall by a child with a bazooka. Bettina and Verna Reid seemed almost uninterested, reserving all their attention, packed with malice, for each other. With an effort I called the old training into play and looked at his hands; in contrast to the rest of him they were clean and well maintained. It was a nice, sleuthly point but not of much use just now. Then I noticed something else and my breath started to come a little easier: only one of the hammers on the old gun was cocked and his finger was on the wrong trigger. That gave me all the time in the world.

Baudin turned his head a fraction to look at Bettina. ‘Who’s she?’ he said thickly.

I moved fast and punched his upper left arm and swooped on his right wrist with my other hand. The barrels swung down to the floor and his finger clawed convulsively: the gun roared and pellets sprayed up at us from the floor. I wrenched the shotgun free and dug Baudin hard with it in the belly. He went down with a grunt. I bent for my gun and then I was holding all the aces again. Also I was one of the three people not bleeding: Baudin had taken some pellets in the legs, Selby in the shoulder and James had both hands over his face and was moaning quietly. It was a bad day for James.

Bettina got busy. She dumped her bag and helped her husband and James into chairs. Baudin was shuffling back towards the wall and I let him get there and prop himself against it. I told Bettina to get some water and look for something to use as a bandage. I stood by the window and made and lit a cigarette. I wanted a drink. Bettina came back with a basin and a bottle of disinfectant and a shirt. She ripped and dabbed and swabbed and the wounded bore it stoically. Baudin had a few pellets embedded in the pudgy flesh of his right leg; Selby was only nicked; Russell James had taken a pellet in the face — it had ploughed up his cheek and veered off along the side of his head before reaching the eye. Lucky.

When she’d finished ministering, Bettina picked up her bag, opened it and pulled out the brandy. She cocked an eye at me and I nodded. She came back from the kitchen with five glasses and poured a generous slug into each. I hooked up a chair and sat in it with the shotgun across my lap and the handgun on the edge of the table. No one had spoken for some time and the grunters and moaners had fallen silent.

‘All right,’ I said. ‘All this is nasty but nothing fatal. I think it’s time we sorted this mess out.’

I looked across at Baudin who was staring down at his glass; he picked it up and drained it straight off. I motioned to Bettina to pour him another and he did the same again. He seemed uninterested in the proceedings, just keen to get as much alcohol inside him as was allowed.

I drank some brandy. ‘What have you got to say Russ?’

He sipped his drink and didn’t answer.

‘No, well you wouldn’t want to say too much because you’re the boy who’s really in trouble.’

‘Why?’ There was a whining tone in his voice now and all the polish had rubbed off him.

‘Henry Brain, the old man in Darlinghurst. You hit him. He died.’

‘I didn’t hit him. We struggled and he fell.’

‘You sure as hell didn’t send for a doctor. Look, maybe you’re telling the truth. There’ll be a medical report that might bear you out but either way you look bad — hitting or struggling, what’s the difference. It depends how we play it. Have you got a record?’

‘A bit, not much,’ he said sullenly.

‘But you see my point don’t you? My client carries a fair bit of weight still and I want to keep her happy. I might leave you out if I get co-operation.’ I drank some more brandy and looked down at the sad fat man with the empty glass on the floor. ‘He’s the grandson, right?’

‘Don’t tell him, Russell,’ Verna Reid barked, ‘don’t tell him a thing.’

James looked down at Baudin who was playing with the glass in his big, meaty hands.

‘We think so,’ he said slowly. ‘It was all Richard’s idea.’

Selby opened his mouth to say something but I waved my glass at him and he shut it.

‘The way I see it,’ I said, ‘is that Brain spotted fatty here and blabbed something to you about his long-lost son. He told you that he’d been married to Mr Justice Chatterton’s daughter and you knew Selby here was married to her now and you thought he might be interested.’

James nodded and put down half his brandy. Bettina looked interested and hadn’t touched her drink yet.

‘That’s right,’ James said. ‘Richard took over then. We… he sent old Henry up to pressure the old lady but he made a mess of it. Then Henry dropped out of sight for a while, Richard had given him some money. Then the Judge died. We didn’t know what to do after that. Then Richard…” He stopped and took a nervous sip of his drink.

‘Richard came up with the idea of you latching onto Miss Reid,’ I said. ‘Dirty trick.’

Verna Reid’s face lost its boldness, her hands flew up and fluttered like the wings of a bird beating against bars. ‘I thought you…’ she said, ‘I thought that we…’

‘Charades, Verna,’ I said. ‘All charades. Do you know what Lady Catherine planned to do with the estate?’

‘Not really, she’s mad. One time she told me she’d leave it to me, another time she said she’d leave me nothing. She hinted that there was someone else, I knew she didn’t mean her.” She shot a look at Bettina who was nursing her drink and leaning forward as if she was watching a good play.

‘Just what did you have in mind then, Miss Reid?’ Bettina purred.

She didn’t answer; she looked at James who was staring down into his glass and at Selby who avoided her eyes. She seemed to know that she’d reached the end of things — a relationship, prospects, a job. Her eyes were empty and dull.

‘I slaved for that old bitch. The wages are a joke. She was always promising things, promising. Well, the place is pretty run down and she hasn’t got any money to speak of. The way things were going she’d have had to sell it sometime.’

‘I get it,’ I said. ‘You could help that process along a bit and Russell here could do himself a bit of good when the place came up for sale.’

‘Yes,’ she said softly.

‘What about Booth, the lawyer?’ Bettina said angrily. ‘He should have been able to protect her, he was my father’s friend.’

‘He’s an old fogey,’ Verna Reid said. ‘She had him completely bluffed.’ The tears that had flowed when I was heavying James had left streaks down her face and they got wet again as fresh tears started. ‘It would have worked, it would have. And then this fool had to play around with this grandson idea.’ Selby poured himself some more brandy and said nothing.

‘They had the grandson idea first,’ I said. ‘You were just a supporting act. They kept both ideas running and couldn’t decide which one to back. You’re a tough nut Miss Reid, you put James on to me and he tailed me down the coast.’ The words mortified me. Being tailed twice by amateurs and not picking it up is bad for the ego. I said: ‘What about the old lady?’ to James and some of the anger in my voice was for myself.

James jerked and held his hands out, palms up as if to ward me off. ‘I didn’t touch her, I swear it. I got scared and came back to talk to Richard and then you were all over the place. We didn’t know what to do.’

Selby had finished his drink and he reached across and took the bottle again. ‘Good on you, Russ,’ he said, ‘you always did drop your bundle. Well Hardy, what are you going to do about it?’

I was suddenly very angry, disgusted with them and part of the disgust was because there was nothing much I could do about them if I wanted to bring things out right for me. But I felt unclean just being in the same room as them. I suddenly wished I was in old Sir Clive’s shoes and had the power to send the whole crew of them to the slammer for a long, long time. But I kept my voice flat and unemotional. ‘You could go up on a series of conspiracy charges apart from Brain’s manslaughter. And there’s the drug angle. I could tie you in with Albie and put you right out of business. Health studios, weight-lifting, see what I mean?’

Selby looked glum. Bettina was showing no interest in him at all and I had the feeling that he’d be a back number pretty soon. She was sipping her drink, not desperately, and looking curiously at Baudin.

‘That brings us up to him.’ I inclined my head at Baudin. ‘What drugs is he on? Don’t tell me you don’t know about that, James. Albie says different.’

‘Speed, lots of pills, Mogadon, Largactyl, you know. Plenty of grog as well. He’s a hopeless case.’

‘You helped him along. Does he know anything about this? Does he know who he is?’

‘I don’t think so. He was on the skids when old Henry saw him. We tried to smarten him up at one stage, Richard had some idea of using him some way, but it fell through. He’s been pretty well out of it since then.’

‘Bit of a Svengali are you, Dicky?’ I said to Selby.

Selby pulled cigarettes out of his shirt pocket and lit up, struggling for nonchalance. ‘I’m not saying a word until I speak to my lawyer.’

‘Lawyer!’ I had to laugh. ‘You haven’t got a prayer there, Dicky boy. When he hears who you’ve been up against your lawyer’ll take his holidays.’

‘Christ,’ Selby said. He puffed hard on his cigarette and looked at Bettina. She studied him as if she was making plans to have him mounted. He looked very uneasy but he still had a bit of fight in him. He pointed to Baudin on the floor.

‘That’s your son, Bettina dear, the one you never told me about. What d’you think of him?’

Bettina didn’t take her eyes of his flushed, angry face.

‘You always were pathetic, Richard,’ she said evenly. ‘I never knew anything you planned to come out right and you’re still at it. If you think I’m going to break down you’ve got another thing coming. Henry Brain was a slug — he’s no loss, by the way, Hardy. Being pregnant to him was like having a belly full of maggots. I just got it over with and tried to get on with my life. I thought about the child a bit at first, but it was all tied up with Henry. I wanted to forget about all that and I did. I’m sorry for him, that’s all.’

Selby shook his head wildly and James gave a thin, bitter smile and winced when the movement hurt his face. He seemed to have accepted the new turn of events. The trouble was, the shape of those events had to be determined by me and I was confused. I had some ethical questions to sort out. I broke the shotgun open, took out the shell and leaned the gun against the wall. That seemed like an appropriate move towards finding a civilised solution. Among the living I had five people to consider — myself, Baudin-Chatterton, Lady C, Bettina and Dr Osborn. There were Brain and the nurse to consider, too; slamming the door on James, Reid and Selby wouldn’t do them any good and maybe there was a nice irony in Henry Brain’s son inheriting the Chatterton estate. As for Gertrude Callaghan, perhaps her memory would best be served by the proper preservation of the doctor’s records. I could help with that.

Bettina finished her drink and rapped the glass on the table.

‘Deep thoughts, Hardy — problems?’

‘I think I’ve got them sorted out. What about you?’

She looked at Selby. ‘I’m going to divorce him. Will he go to jail?’

‘I don’t think so, I think he should go back to his business and concentrate on supporting you and the kids.’

‘So do I.’

She jerked her head at James. ‘What about him?’

‘He should be in a cage but bringing it all out will do more harm than good. I can sew him up in a drugs charge and that should keep him quiet. Besides,’ I looked at James’ cut and bruised face, ‘he isn’t going to be so pretty any more. Miss Reid here is going to resign her post, aren’t you?’

She nodded; she was passive now, which was an unnatural state for her. I wondered how long she’d stay that way. I had a feeling that she would bounce back but there was nothing I could do about it.

That left the grandson and heir, the question was how much of a man was left in him after the drugs and the booze, given that he hadn’t been such promising material to start with.

‘Can you help him, Hardy?’ Bettina said softly.

‘I have to. He’s worth money to me and a bit to a lady in Darlinghurst who needs it.’ I spoke directly to him for the first time. ‘You remember Honey don’t you, Warwick?’

He looked at me for what seemed like an hour and then he nodded slowly.

‘Sure you do. Great days. I’ll give it a try. I’ll need a doctor and some time. I can’t give him to grandma like this.’

‘Goodbye money,’ Bettina said grimly.

‘Maybe not. It looks as if you and yours were out of the picture anyway. Maybe you can get round her if she’s doting on your son. You can try if you feel like it. Anyway, you’ll have Richard here with his nose to the grindstone.’

‘It’s a nice thought,’ she said.

Warwick Baudin started to shake, flesh wobbled on his big frame as his shoulders heaved convulsively. He lowered his head and big, fat tears fell on the floor.

Bettina moved over and put her arm across his shoulders, ‘There,’ she said, ‘there, there.’


I located my Smith amp; Wesson in a kitchen drawer and collected up the few things Warwick Baudin had in the house. When we left, James and Selby were sitting at the table with fresh cans of beer open. They were both snappy-dressers and somehow snappy dressers look all the worse when they’re knocked about. These two were — they were bloodied and bowed. They were looking at each other and not liking what they saw. Verna Reid was staring out the window like someone with a lot to think over. I tossed the two sets of car keys onto the table and left them to it.

We bundled Baudin into the Honda and took the dusty trail away from Wisemans Ferry. I locked the back doors but Baudin didn’t seem to have any fight in him which was just as well — he was a big lad. He fell asleep when we reached the highway and snored all the way back to Sydney.

Bettina didn’t say much. At my prompting she blocked in an odd fact or two about Selby. I got a picture of a man who thought big but didn’t have the ability to carry out his plans. At first she said she’d take him for every penny but she softened almost straightaway.

‘Hell, I haven’t been much fun to live with,’ she said. ‘I might go easy on him, there’s the girls to consider.’ She looked at her watch as she drove. ‘Tell you one thing, I haven’t been this sober this late in the day for a long time. Do you think that’s a good sign?’

‘Could be,’ I said. I felt she was warming up towards something more intimate and I didn’t feel up to handling it just then. I had too much on my hands with the drug-soaked man in the back seat and the nagging worry that I’d let Kay Fletcher down. Bettina saw I was preoccupied and left me alone. We reached her place late in the afternoon. She kissed me briefly and helped me shift Baudin over to my car. He was like a child just learning to walk. I wondered how he’d got up to Wisemans Ferry and what the hell he’d taken when he got there. We rolled him into the Falcon.

‘When do you plan to present him?’ Bettina said.

‘About a month from now.’

‘I’ll be in touch, it should be interesting.’ She peered in through the dirty window at the wreck of her thirty-one-year-old son. She shook her head, gave me a wave and set off towards her nasty house, her plain children and her problems.

I took him home to Glebe and put him in my spare bed, then I called my friend Ian Sangster who has a couple of medical degrees and an adventurous spirit. When Sangster arrived I gave him an outline of the problems — Baudin’s history, the drugs, the manipulation, and turned him loose. Then I made a drink and rolled some cigarettes and picked up the telephone. There was no answer at Kay’s flat. I called a journalist I knew in Canberra and he asked around and found that Kay had gone to Indonesia on assignment for the paper. She hadn’t left any message for me. I was thinking about that and smoking one of the cigarettes when I got a call from Lady Catherine’s residence. The caller was a Mrs McMahon who said she’d been hired for three days as a replacement for Verna Reid. Lady Catherine was ready to retire for the night and had instructed Mrs Mac to ring me for a progress report. It looked as if Verna had been giving herself a little elbow room. I told the woman that I’d report in half an hour and got the name of the hiring agency she worked for. Her assignment was going to run for a little more than three days.

I went through to the back of the house where Sangster was sitting in the kitchen with his long, mournful face drooping into a big glass of my scotch.

‘That’s a gunshot wound, Cliff,’ he said. ‘Should be reported.’

‘Hunting accident.’ I got some scotch for myself. ‘The rabbits were jumping over a barbed wire fence and he tried to do the same. Happens all the time.’

He shook his head and drank. Sangster has a drinking problem but no money problem, so maybe it’s not a problem.

‘Your friend’s in a bad way.’ He pulled out a little notebook and began checking items. ‘High blood pressure, furred tongue, dull reflexes, sugar in urine, obese, erratic pulse. He’s really been hitting it.’

‘Or being hit,’ I said. ‘I think he’s been pilled up and down and round about by other people for the last year or so. I doubt he’s made an independent move in that time.’

He grunted. ‘So what do you want to know? You want information from him, is that right?’ Sangster disapproves of my business which he calls a trade. I call his a racket.

‘Wrong,’ I said. ‘First, is he going to be all right in the short term? I mean what’s he been on?’

‘Heavy amphetamine-alcohol mixture. He’s disoriented, dependant, pretty paranoic too, I’d say. But yes, he’s not going to die. If he went on the way he’s been going I’d give him two years at the most.’

‘He’s stopping,’ I said. ‘He’s going off everything and turning himself into a model citizen. He’s going to wear a suit and read the Financial Review.’

He held out his empty glass. ‘You’re going to work this miracle, are you Cliff?’

‘That’s right.’ I got two more drinks. Mine would put me well down the track but it was a drinking sort of night. ‘What are the problems, would you say?’

‘First, an incentive to be rehabilitated. It’s a boring process I’m told. What’s in it for him?’

‘Money,’ I said.

He drank reflectively. ‘That should help. He’s been going this way for a year you say?’

I nodded.

‘Well, you’ll have to watch him night and day. You might get him to try, he might really want to kick it, but he’ll get pulled back and if he slips too far too often you’re gone. A twenty-four hour vigil, seven days a week. How long have you got?’

‘I need results in a month.’

He shook his head. ‘You’ll have to get him really keen. What did he do before he started blowing his mind?’

‘Not much.’

‘Be uphill work then. Tell you another thing, you might have to subdue him, he’s a big bastard. Reckon you can handle him?’

‘I don’t know, we’ll see. Will I need anything — drugs, medicine?’

He drained his glass and got up. He stands six four and looking up at him made me look at the ceiling which was festooned with cobwebs. The house had a rundown, seedy feel and there hadn’t been a good solid laugh or a relaxed moment in it for a long time. Now it was to be a drying-out clinic and a jail and there’d be more ghosts and shadows and pain.

‘You don’t need drugs,’ Sangster, ‘just luck. You look pretty beat, Cliff. You should get some sleep. I gave him a shot and he’s out for twelve hours. After that you’ll have to be on your toes.’

I thanked him and let him out. Upstairs my meal-ticket and my bonus was sleeping. I felt drained, let-down, as is usual when a case has been resolved, but the feeling was exacerbated by the uncertainty about Kay. Women. That set me to thinking about how to play it with the old woman, how to stop her coming over in her wheelchair until the parcel was ready for delivery. A version of the truth seemed like the best ploy as it so often is.

I rang the ranch and gave Mrs McMahon a little low-key Hardy charm. It turned out she hadn’t liked Miss Reid very much on their one meeting and had found signs of neglect in the treatment of Lady C. She was against neglect. She seemed pleased at my suggestion that she might be needed for some time and more pleased at the advice to pack Verna Reid’s things and install them somewhere near the front. She passed me on to the widow.

‘Mr Hardy?’ That autocratic voice came on the line with a questioning note in it that was not really questioning. She knew the answers, or all the answers that mattered, except one.

‘Have you found him Mr Hardy?’


The silence was more expressive than words — dreams were fulfilled, hopes were given reality, life was full of promise as it should be.

‘Are you certain?’ No fakes tolerated.

‘Yes, I think you’ll be satisfied on that score. I can document it pretty well, also the physical resemblance is strong — or will be.’

‘Will be, will be?’ she shrilled. ‘What on earth does that mean?’

‘He’s had a pretty bad time. He’s going to need a month’s rest and some treatment. He’s ill.’

‘Nonsense. I must see him. Now!’

It got to me, the simple, blind command, trampling on the wounded, rough-riding over the lower ranks. I was coiled up tight and my temper snapped.

‘Listen to me,’ I snarled into the phone. ‘He’s been out in the real world doing dirty things with some dirty people. He’s hurt and he needs help. I’ll tell you this, he’s more like Henry Brain than a Chatterton right now.’

The silence again; I could imagine her struggling against the impulse to strike down a subordinate, knowing that she was a crippled old lady locked up in a big house and that what she most wanted in the world couldn’t quite be bought, not outright.

‘Could you be more specific, Mr Hardy, about my grandson’s condition,’ she said at last, ‘and about your plans?’

I wanted to say, he’s simple-minded from Mogadon and liquor and he looks like a Sumo wrestler, but what good would it have done? She could probably have summoned up enough doctors and lawyers to get her hands on Baudin there and then if she had a mind to. It was probably then that I admitted to myself that I was interested in the problem of renovating Warwick Baudin. In my business I saw so many people putting themselves into his sort of nose-dive, I even gave them a nudge when I had to. It would be interesting to try to pull someone out of it. Gently, gently was the way with her ladyship.

‘There is a drug problem, Lady Catherine,’ I said quietly, ‘and the question of rebuilding his self-confidence.’ I thought that’d reach her. No Chatterton ever liked to be without a full measure of that.

‘You can provide this care, Mr Hardy? Surely a doctor…’

Why didn’t I just turn him over to her? What did I care how he handled it or what she thought of him? Maybe it was that first picture, with the record-breaking 440 just behind him and the whole world ahead. Maybe it was the wish to do a good, neat job and tie the package with ribbon. Maybe it was something else…

‘I’ll have a doctor helping me,’ I said. ‘He needs close attention from someone expert in watching people. A wrong move and he might take off and we’d have the same sorry business all over again.’

She didn’t like it but she came around. She gave me a month and agreed to meet expenses and pay me a salary. We didn’t discuss the bonus but I had the impression that it was still in the offing. Towards the end of the conversation she started to lose faith and seemed about to exercise her God-given right to change her mind. She was subtle about it though, referring to her health and suggesting that she didn’t have long to go. I thought she probably had a month and told her so.

‘You are impertinent, Mr Hardy,’ she said. ‘You have your month and not a day more. It will be almost Christmas.’

It was hard to think of the snoring slob upstairs as a present but, if that was how she wanted it, it was okay with me.

‘How do you get on with Mrs McMahon?’

‘Oh, a charming person, quite marvellous. But I suppose Verna will be back soon.’

‘She won’t be back,’ I said. ‘She was part of the nastiness. She was part of a plan to keep your grandson’s identity hidden.’

This was enough to consign her to the fourth circle of outer darkness. ‘I see,’ she said icily; like all autocrats she valued loyalty.

‘How’re the memoirs going?’ I asked, to needle her.

‘Oh, quite well.’

This would be the end of them I thought, and I’d probably done the public a service there. Since I had her on the defensive I gave her one last thrust.

‘You might care to contact your daughter, Lady Catherine.’

‘Bettina?’ Her voice was sharp and anxious. ‘What has she got to do with this?’

‘She can vouch for what I say. She’s met her son.’

I left her to think that one over, spoke to Mrs McMahon again about money matters, and rang off. I was tired and not as drunk as I intended to be. While I changed that I thought about Warwick Baudin and Lady C and wondered whether I’d done either of them a favour. He could prove as big a headache for her as he had for his wise old foster father. On the other hand, despite her protestations, she could keep him waiting for his money for a long while yet. Maybe they deserved each other.


It started badly early the next morning. I came up slowly out of a foggy, boozy sleep to hear something crashing on the stairs. When I got out there he was lying at the bottom of the stairs with his limbs at all angles like a crashed hang-glider. He was unconscious but breathing steadily. I propped him up a bit and made coffee. His eyes were flickering open when I came back.

‘Who the hell are you?’ he said in that same, thickened, tongue-tied voice.

‘The name’s Hardy. Have some coffee.’ I handed him the mug and he looked at it indifferently.

‘Shit, I’ve got a head,’ he mumbled. ‘Got anything stronger?’

‘Not for you boy. You’re on the wagon.’

He sneered at me and drank some of the scalding coffee without seeming to notice how hot it was. All he had on was a pair of underpants and I looked him over appraisingly. The remnants of his athlete’s physique were still there, buried under the fat. There were signs that his muscles weren’t too far gone and he’d scrub up fairly well with the fat sweated off. His face was ghastly though, heavy bearded, scummy and bluish pale. I was glad I hadn’t yielded to Lady Catherine’s wish to see him. I doubt she’d have accepted him as the genuine article. He saw me assessing him and sneered some more.

‘Hardy means fuck-all to me,’ he growled. ‘I never heard of you. I’m going.’ He started to struggle up and I pushed him down easily using my left hand.

‘Finish your coffee,’ I said, ‘I’ve got a few things to tell you.’

It took a while to get the message through to him and I had to push him around a few times to keep him listening. He was getting jumpier as the time passed. But eventually he got the picture. I got him a dressing gown and after a whole pot of coffee and my refusal to lace it with anything he was a quivering mess but very, very interested in his prospects. He told me about his long road to perdition and I was willing to listen. He’d had European and South-East Asian adventures and was deep in trouble with the narcs and the drug heavies when he’d run into Russell James and Selby. After that it was a bit of a blur. He’d been blackmailing his foster brother for years over a sexual matter and he put one last bite on him to finance a big buy. That came unstuck and so did he. I got pieces of the story over the next few days but it boiled down to a total dependence on James and the drugs he supplied.

I put his clothes in the wash and turned the bathroom and my shaving gear over to him. Then I took all the grog in the house — wine and beer in the fridge, scotch and brandy in a cupboard — and emptied it down the sink. My tobacco was lying around and I threw it in the rubbish. It was going to be tough all round and there was no sense in taking half-measures.

Tough is what it was. He was keen enough to become one of the pampered rich and he took my word that his best move was to present himself to the old lady in tip-top shape. It was easier to say than do; his dependence on the drugs and the booze was deep and the withdrawal was like a slow roasting over a fire. I’ll say this for him, he tried. He fought the screaming pains and the chills and the black despair until he wept with the effort. Sangster was right, I had to watch him. After a week, in a phase of confidence, he slipped away from me and got a bottle. When I found him in the park he’d drunk the lot and was sleeping peacefully under a tree. I over-reacted: I took him to a Turkish bath and sweated him unmercifully, then I walked him and then I ran him. I was suffering myself; I hadn’t had a drink or a cigarette for a week and I’d lost a lot of sleep and I was mean.

Strangely, it turned out to be the right thing to do. He was losing weight fast after the first ten days and his jeans were getting loose around his waist. We went to get some clothes which I could charge to Lady C and his eye was taken by some jogging gear. The shoes and shorts lay around the house for a few days while we drank coffee and watched television and screamed silently at each other. I could feel the resistance building in him; it was partly a false confidence based on a few days’ clean living, partly an attraction to the degraded addict’s life where there are no responsibilities and a thousand excuses. The novelty of rehabilitation was wearing off when he read a newspaper article about a hop-step-and jumper who’d cleared the metric equivalent of fifty-seven feet.

‘I did fifty-two myself, once,’ he said.


‘It’s true. I could do a twenty-two foot long jump any day of the week and I tried the triple jump a few times and wasn’t bad. One day in practice I put it all together and I did a fifty-two-footer dead, wind-assisted.’

I thought of my own triple-jumps into the rough school sand-pits — well short of fifty feet as my high jumps had been below six feet. My running was better and I looked at his brand new track shoes and felt a stirring, a nostalgia for jock-straps and starting blocks.

‘I knew you were a runner, what was your best hundred?’

‘Nine point six.’


‘No. I did a 440 in 48.4 once.’

‘I know.’ I dug out the photoprint and showed it to him. He turned it over and over in his hands and looked down sadly at his gut.

‘God,’ he said. ‘They were good days.’

“What happened?’

He shrugged. ‘I don’t know. There was a lot of pressure to keep starring and there was that little shit Keir around the place. We were too different, I never felt right about my family. I was interested in the Law course and I did all right the first year, then the grog and the girls got to me. I had hundreds of girls…’ He looked down again at his ruined figure. ‘I haven’t had one for a long time now.’

One thing led to another and within a few days we were out running around Glebe in the early morning and evening. It was slow, lumbering stuff at first for both of us, but we built it up. We kept up the steam baths and he went in for massage

— Lady Catherine’s boy wasn’t going to come cheap. The weight dropped off him because he went onto a diet as well

— I only followed him part of the way there. My own weight went down and I felt I’d kicked the tobacco habit after a couple of weeks. But I was promising myself a bottle of Chivas Regal when all this was through.

I got hooked on it and was pleased to see my stomach flatten and the wind get longer, but some of my weight loss was due to stress. I was nursemaid, trainer and jailer and I was deeply worried about Kay Fletcher. I toyed with the idea of going down to Canberra but I’d have had to take Baudin along and that seemed like a very bad idea.

So I worried. But we kept at it, partly because I had too much invested in a successful outcome by now, partly because the processes had acquired a momentum and interest of their own. It was childish certainly; we raised the number of laps and the distance we’d run, we lifted the number and rate of the sit-ups and press-ups. He was competitive to his back teeth and I’m a bit the same way going back to schooldays when I occasionally won things against the more talented by sheer dint of effort.

We competed. We went down to the University track and started running set distances against each other and against the clock. I beat him at first over his favoured 440 and on up to a mile. Then he ran an 880 in 2.35 and beat me by ten yards. He was standing there, cocky again, as I came past the post.

‘Licked you,’ he said. He was breathing easily, not as easily as he pretended but pretty good — better than me.

I remembered that I didn’t like him, that he’d rolled cars and scarred girls, pushed drugs and informed on his mates. I’d lost sight of this in the competition — that’s what competing does, it makes you insensitive to anything but yourself so that you could tolerate Jack the Ripper out there on the track.

‘So you should,’ I said. ‘You’re ten years younger than me. I need a handicap — a yard a year.’

His self-satisfied face went sullen. The features were clearer now that the fat had dropped off; he was still fleshy and probably always would be, a comfortable life and he’d need the best tailoring available, but you’d have to have been blind not to see the resemblance to Bettina and her late Dad. It was there in the high colour and the ‘up yours’ look in the eyes and efficient way they had of moving their bulk around.

‘You’re on,’ he said. ‘Ten yards, tomorrow.’ He turned away and I gestured at his back. He slid into some loosening up exercises and I creaked off towards the showers feeling old and resentful and used-up.

He gave me the ten yards the next day and beat me going away. After nearly four weeks he could beat me at every distance and although he’d never be spring-heeled Jack again he was doing good jumps. I could still out-swim him but if we’d kept on he’d probably have taken care of that, too.

A few days before the month was up Cy Sackville rang.

‘I’ve got news for you Cliff.’

‘Don’t tell me,’ I said. ‘You’ve bought a Greek island and you want me for head of security.’

‘Shut up, I’m busy. I’ve got a mountain of work.’

‘Great tan though.’

‘Cliff,’ he sighed, ‘I’ll say this once. Old Booth died, young Booth has seen all the papers.’

‘Tell me.’

‘The late Sir Clive’s residence can’t be sold. It can be used to produce income to cover expenses but if anyone tries to sell it the Imperial Legal Society has an option to buy at a nominal price. How do you like it?’

I thought about it for one or two seconds. ‘I love it.’

‘So glad. I’ll send a bill.’

Twenty-four hours from D Day I phoned Mrs McMahon and made the arrangements. She told me that Verna Reid had picked up her traps and departed, also that a Mr Booth had been in touch with Lady Catherine.

‘How did she take that?’ I asked.

‘Oh, very well, she seemed very relieved. I gather there’s not much money, though.’

‘Aah,’ I said.

‘But there is a cheque here for your fee — Mr Booth spoke very highly of you.’

‘Mrs McMahon,’ I said, ‘I’m looking forward to meeting you.’

Baudin went to bed early and I settled down with my notes on the case and the bottle I’d bought to celebrate. I drank and pushed bits of paper around in front of me. Baudin Senior had arranged his birth registration nicely and some doctor and some government clerk had got a little spending money. A mere push of the pen could transform him into a Chatterton who could sow his seed in some suitable girl and produce a line of Managing Directors and hostesses with exquisite taste. To hell with them. I drank some more. By a roundabout route I’d found out that that cops weren’t interested in the demise of Henry Brain. An old drunk, dead in a toilet — why should they care? His room was ransacked but anyone of his fellow knights of the bottle could have done that. To hell with them, too.

I had the level of the scotch well down when Baudin came into the room in his pyjamas. He looked at the bottle and sneered at me.

‘On the piss again, Hardy? What, no cigarette?’ He was smug but his eyes were full of pain and a terrible question. I poured myself out a big one and took a drink.

‘How d’you feel about tomorrow. Nervous?’

He shrugged. ‘Why should I be?’ He watched me drinking like a lizard watches a fly. ‘It’ll be all right.’ He stretched and yawned and for a second I thought he was going to ask for a drink. I don’t think I’d have known what to do if he had. But he just stood there, six-foot-two of ego, all in pretty good shape.

‘What will you do when you’re all set up?’ I asked.

‘I think I’ll finish the Law course.’

I had to laugh at that. I could see him in his after-shave and three piece suit, dealing. I laughed some more and drank.

‘What’s funny?’

‘Nothing. Be sure to look up Honey Gully, won’t you? She’d love to see you.’

He gave me a look that told me he hated me for what I knew about him. He was already living the role of Chatterton and Hardy was cast as an enemy. He marched out of the room and I got on with my bottle.


I delivered him on a fine, sparkling morning two days before Christmas. He was freshly shaved and barbered and he had a good tan. He had on a beige safari suit and everything that matched. He still had flab on him and there was a muddiness about his eyes, but you had to look very closely to see it. His teeth were good.

Mrs McMahon met us at the door; she was a middle-sized, middle-aged woman with grey hair and a restful face. She was grateful to me the way people sometimes are to those who help them get jobs they like.

I introduced Baudin-Chatterton and they looked each other over warily. He hadn’t yet acquired that particular way of looking through servants but I was sure he’d pick it up. We went into the house and started on the great trek.

‘How do you get along with her ladyship?’ I asked.

Mrs McMahon smiled. ‘She’s wilful, but she has her soft spots.’

‘I suppose your predecessor found that, too.’

She stopped dead in her tracks. ‘That woman! I can’t begin to tell you the things she did. The things she paid for and didn’t pay for, it was a scandal.’ We got moving again. ‘Did you know she drank?’ she said.

Touchy ground I thought. ‘Well, perhaps…’

‘Dreadfully, bottles everywhere.’

‘Dreadful,’ I agreed. ‘But I expect you’ve sorted things out.’

‘Oh yes,’ she glanced at the heir who was avoiding a bare patch in the carpet. ‘Mr Booth has been very helpful and things are on a very sound footing now.’

Lady Catherine Chatterton was waiting in state in the room I’d had an audience in the last time. There was colour in her cheeks and her white hair was waved softly. Her dress was new, a brown silk affair with white lace and it suited her. She looked as good as an old lady could.

I made the introductions; he bowed over her hand, a little eighteenth century I thought, but it went down well enough.

‘Thank you, Mr Hardy, my deepest thanks,’ she said dismissively.

‘How’s Bettina?’ I said.

She let it go. ‘If you would be good enough to leave the young man and I alone? Mrs McMahon will see to the arrangements.’

He was sitting on the edge of a silk upholstered chair taking an intelligent interest in the paintings. He gave me one of his winning athlete’s smiles and then looked away. For all his smooth appearance he still looked like trouble and it’d be her trouble and the thought came to me that he might be vengeance for all those small, frightened men the Judge had bullied in the dock. It wasn’t a bad thought and I took it out of the room with me.

Mrs McMahon was waiting outside and we walked amiably along to the office. She handed over the cheque with a motherly smile. I looked at it. Five thousand dollars.

‘A lot of money,’ I said. ‘Can she afford it?’

‘I believe you’ve earned it. She can just afford it. There will have to be economies.’

‘You like her, don’t you?’

‘Yes, she trusts me and I trust her.’

‘Don’t,’ I said. ‘She’ll wipe her feet on your face if he tells her to.’

I left the house and walked down the path to my car. The lawn was ragged and weeds dominated the flower beds. I looked around but there was no sign of Rusty.

I paid the cheque in, drew out five hundred dollars and mailed it to Honey Gully. Then I packed a bag and headed for Canberra. My first call was at Kay’s flat; it seemed to be occupied — no milk bottles or papers lying about, clean windows. My mouth felt dry and I felt flushed and edgy when I walked into the reporters’ room at The Canberra Times. Kay was sitting behind a desk, hammering a typewriter. She had a pencil stuck in her mouth and her concentration was total. I watched her for a minute and then she shook her hair back and looked up; her eyes went wide and the pencil dropped. She caught it deftly and put it down on the desk as I walked over.

‘Hello,’ I said.

‘Hi Cliff.’


‘Mmm, fairly.’

‘What’s the story?’

‘You know, dirty Indonesian money and how to clean it.’

‘You were supposed to clear that with me.’

‘You were supposed to ring me.’

‘I got tied up, Kay,’ I smiled. ‘I mean that literally, I called as soon as I could.’

‘Well, it didn’t matter. I started work on this straight away. The paper sent me to Indonesia. Just got back.’

‘Yeah, I heard. Terrific tan.’ It was true, she was wearing a green dress with white trim; her tan was TV commercial standard and she looked cool, clean and lovely. I was trying to hold my feelings in neutral but they wouldn’t stay there. I wanted to touch her very badly. She moved her hand across the desk a little towards me, it was like a negotiating party advancing under a white flag. I reached down and put my hand lightly over hers.

‘Let’s go out for a drink,’ I said.

‘I thought you’d say that.’

We went back to the downstairs place of course and talked and drank there for a couple of hours. She had the goods on Keir Baudin all right and I had no reason to stop her exposing him, even if I could. I felt a bit sorry for the old man, though. I told her how the Chatterton case had developed and she expressed a polite interest. The fact was that she was committed to her story and the career advance it was probably going to bring her. I struggled with the knowledge that she didn’t need me.

‘You look better,’ she said, ‘fitter and you’re not smoking. You’ll be better at the job.’

‘Yeah, we’ll both be better at our jobs.’

She went back to work and we met again later. We ate, drank and made love and she went on with her work. I stayed in the flat and read her books and walked around Canberra seeing how the taxpayers’ money was spent. The city’s grass and gardens were drying out and would soon be yellow under the summer sun. After a few days I had a strong yen for a Beach and I tried to persuade Kay to come to the coast with me but she was too involved in her story. We spent an evening together in which we couldn’t find any common ground. Truth was, I was in Sydney and she was in Indonesia and we both knew it. I went back to Sydney to wait for work. Her articles on the Indonesian connection were run in all the Capital city papers; the next time I saw her name in print she was writing about crime and politics — in New York City.