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Authors: Peter Temple

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BOOK: Shooting Star
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Another man, younger, mid-fifties, sat forward in a buttoned leather armchair, extended a hand. ‘Barry Carson, Frank,’ he said, a genial voice, a light, boyish voice, a voice to put you at your ease. We shook hands. ‘Thanks for coming,’ he said. He had no grey in his fair hair, dyed probably. There was a hint of the voluptuary in his face, the fleshiness, the hooded eyes behind round fine-framed glasses.

Barry pointed to the chair next to him. ‘Sit here, Frank.’

I sat down. Noyce took a seat beside the desk.

‘Tell him, Graham,’ said Pat Carson.

‘We’ve had a kidnapping,’ Noyce said. ‘Today. Tom’s granddaughter. Anne. She’s fifteen.’

‘That’s police business,’ I said.

‘No.’ Pat shook his head. ‘No.’

‘I can’t help you,’ I said. ‘These are life and death things.’

‘My daughter, Alice, was kidnapped in 1990,’ Barry said. He wasn’t looking at me, eyes on something behind his father. ‘She was eleven. Getting out of the car in the garage of our house in Power Avenue. Two men. They left a note saying no police or your daughter dies. Wait for ransom instructions. But we did call in the police. How can you not call the police? That’s how stupid we were. So we had all kinds of police arrive, state, federal, name it. They said they wouldn’t interfere with the handing over of the ransom, wouldn’t do anything until we had Alice back.’

He looked at me, sat back, crossed his legs at the ankles. He was dressed for golf; I could see a burr on a dark cotton sock, a burr from Royal Melbourne, perfectly at home on a twenty-five-dollar sock.

‘For two days, nothing happened,’ he said. ‘Then the police said they needed public help, the media had to be told. We went along with that. The story was on television that night, radio, front-page news the next day. At about 10 a.m., we got a phone call. All the voice said was: “Didn’t listen, rich bastards. Now she dies.” The next day, Alice turned up at a house in the Dandenongs. The kidnappers had taken her into the forest to kill her but she got away.’

I knew nothing about the Carson kidnapping. But then, in 1990, I was in hospital with multiple fractures, a ruptured spleen and a punctured lung. End of career number one.

‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘I didn’t know. I was somewhere else then.

What happened today?’

Noyce coughed. ‘Anne lives here,’ he said. ‘She goes to school with the daughter of Lauren Geary, the estate manager. To Moorfield. They’re the same age. The head driver takes them to school, drops them and picks them up. Inside the school grounds. He’s not supposed to stop anywhere—going or coming. Turns out he’s been coming home via Armadale, letting them go into a record shop for fifteen minutes. Nobody knew that. He’s supposed to be a professional.’

‘Like the person who hired him,’ said Tom Carson, gruff voice, smoker’s voice, but quiet. I could imagine that in his life he had only to move his lips for people to fall silent. ‘Professional fucking something.’

Noyce’s expression didn’t change but a breath drew in his nostrils, clenched them like buttocks.

Pat coughed, a come-to-order sound.

‘Today was sport, late pick-up,’ Noyce said. ‘Carmen says she stayed in the front part of the store, Anne went down the back. There’s another entrance at that end. To Gawler Street. It was crowded and when Carmen looked for her, she was gone.’

‘What time?’ I said.

‘Carmen came back to the car at 4.50.’

‘Kidnapped. What says that?’

‘Someone phoned my office,’ Tom Carson said. ‘Just three sentences, repeated several times. Sounded like an American voice, the girl says, a strange voice.’

‘Saying what?’

‘We have the girl. Do nothing or she will be killed. Wait till you are contacted.’

‘There’s a recording?’

‘No.’

‘Number displayed?’

Tom turned his gaze on Noyce.

‘Callbox in St Kilda,’ Noyce said. ‘Only unvandalised callbox in Fitzroy Street.’

I said, ‘You got that from where?’

Noyce shrugged. ‘We have these people. Jahn, Cullinan, security people.’

‘You’ve got Jahn, Cullinan,’ I said. I looked at Pat Carson and the Carson boys and at Graham Noyce and they all registered that I was looking at them. ‘You’ve got Jahn, Cullinan and you give me a call?’

‘Don’t trust em,’ Pat said.

‘Mr Carson, they protect presidents, kings. Marcos, Shah of Iran.’

‘Most of those dead too,’ Pat said. ‘Don’t trust em.’ He shook his head dismissively.

‘Jahn do the corporate work,’ Noyce said. ‘Family security is handled in-house.’

‘Or not fucking handled,’ Tom said.

Noyce swallowed and his face pinkened. He wasn’t happy being Tom’s scapegoat.

‘What time was the call?’ I said.

‘Just after five,’ said Noyce.

‘That’s at least two people,’ I said. ‘Probably three, maybe more.’

‘How’s that?’ said Barry. He’d been far away, looking at his hands, flexing his fingers. Something to do with golf, perhaps, thinking about the shot he was about to make when the mobile rang with the bad news.

‘Can’t get to Fitzroy Street from Armadale in ten minutes in peak hour. Two to get the girl, one waiting in St Kilda for a signal to make the call. Three at least, probably more.’

‘Why two to take the girl?’

‘I’m assuming there’s a vehicle involved. Big ask for one person to force a fifteen-year-old out of a crowded store, get her into a vehicle, maybe have to go around to get into the driver’s seat.’

‘It doesn’t matter how many,’ said Pat. ‘Three, thirty-bloody-three, doesn’t matter.’

I leaned forward and looked into Pat’s eyes. ‘It matters,’ I said, speaking softly. ‘That’s why you need the police. Put plainclothes cops into the area. All low-key. Someone would have seen two people and a girl in the store, getting into a vehicle in Gawler Street. Get descriptions, might even get a number, bit of a number. Maybe someone saw the person make the call in St Kilda. Person using an electronic device on a payphone. You’d notice.’

Pat raised his big hands, palms outward. ‘Frank, listen, son. Last time, that’s what happened. They did all their bloody police things. And we almost lost the child. The police didn’t save her. She saved herself. This time, we’re just payin.’

‘Give the cops another chance,’ I said.

Pat shook his head. ‘No. No. They had their chance last time. Afterwards, nothin. They got nowhere. What they ask now, we’re payin. It’s only money, it’s nothin. The child safe. That’s what we want. That’s all.’

I didn’t want any part of this and Pat Carson saw it in my face. Perhaps he saw other things in me, too, the way I had learned to see things in people, to read their bodies and faces, know their eyes.

‘And what you ask, we pay too,’ Pat said. ‘Your rate, forget your rate. When the child’s back, tell Graham the fee. No argument from anyone. Cash, bank cheque, any way you bloody want it.’

He’d read me. He knew I’d hear the rustle of the money in the packet, salivate over the prospect of its chewy, salty, crispy taste. He’d looked at me and he’d read me.

But I didn’t want to be readable. Better to spend more time in Footscray fighting with men in plastic neckbraces than be read by rich people.

‘For doing what?’ I said. ‘When they tell you what they want, give it to them. What happens after that is anybody’s guess.’

I looked at Noyce. His eyes were on Pat. I met Pat’s eyes.

‘Graham can give it to them, Mr Carson,’ I said. ‘A cab driver can give it to them. Send the girls’ driver. The man’s got an interest in getting it right.’

The room was silent. I’d said no. Time to excuse myself. Hope it goes well. I could go, but I couldn’t say that. I couldn’t say anyone can do it and then use the word hope. Although hope was what it would come down to.

‘Thanks for comin, Frank,’ Pat said. His lips moved, not a smile, some outward sign of a reflection on life, on himself perhaps. ‘Usually, the money talks. Not for you. I respect that in a man. Particularly a man who’s been a policeman. Goodnight. Graham will see you’re paid for your time.’

I sat. Pat and I looked at each other. His eyes were the colour of first light in a dry country.

‘If it goes wrong,’ I said, ‘it’ll somehow be my fault. And I’ll blame myself too. For not having the brains to walk out now.’

Pat’s right hand went to his throat. ‘All you have to do is give them what they want. No police stuff, nothing. What could go wrong? A cab driver could do it, not so? And blame? Yes. We’ll blame ourselves, blame you, blame the bloody stars above. Graham will give you ten thousand dollars tonight. Cash. An advance on your fee.’

He looked at Noyce. Noyce looked at Tom, still languid before the fireplace. Something passed between them. Tom’s consent? Did Graham need Tom’s permission to follow Pat’s instructions?

‘Of course,’ Noyce said. ‘It’ll take an hour or so, Frank.’

In my mind, I sighed a deep sigh. ‘A few things first,’ I said. ‘I want to talk to the driver. I’m not even being the bagman here unless I’m happy about him.’

They all looked to Pat. He nodded.

‘Tom, your office line, it’s diverted?’

He nodded.

‘Recording device?’

‘All incoming calls are recorded automatically,’ Noyce said.

‘Other family children. I’d bring them here till this is over.’

‘I think everyone at risk lives here,’ Noyce said. ‘That would be right, wouldn’t it, Tom?’

‘There are five houses in the compound,’ Tom said to me. ‘We’re the fucking Kennedys of Australia. The kids who aren’t here are overseas. We can’t bring them back.’

‘Okay. Which phone will ring?’

‘Next door. Diverted calls will ring next door.’

‘The girl’s parents, where are they?’

A glance between Tom and Barry, between Tom and his father. ‘Mark’s in Europe,’ said Tom. ‘We’ll speak to him in the morning. Her mother’s not well. It’s better that we don’t alarm her.’

‘I’ll need to bring someone else in,’ I said. ‘And I’ll have to stay here, so I’ll need clothes.’

Tom looked me over like a bloodstock agent. ‘Mark’s clothes should fit you. There’s a room full of them upstairs. Have some put out, Graham.’

Graham didn’t like that command. His mouth twitched and he tested the fit of his collar, glanced at Barry. Barry was still engaged elsewhere, not flexing his fingers now but holding their tips to his lips.

Silence, one man standing, four seated, an interlude between something concluding and the future. Into it, Pat said, ‘Never thought it would happen twice.’ His chin was on his chest, his eyes on the desk. ‘And the sinners walk free.’

I couldn’t resist it. ‘What sinners would those be?’

‘What?’

‘What sinners walk free?’

Pat raised his head and looked at me, blinked. ‘Figure of speech, son,’ he said. ‘No shortage of sinners walkin free. Cop, you’d know that.’

‘Former cop,’ I said. ‘Yes.’

THE ROOM next door explained why there weren’t any books in Pat Carson’s study. It was a library, a striking room, mellow parquet floor, four walls of floor-to-ceiling books, ladders on wheels, armchairs covered in faded fabrics, a long, narrow library table surrounded by upright chairs, stern chairs.

I sat at the table, ran my fingertips over the green leather inlay, unhappy at being bought, tempted to find Noyce and tell him I’d changed my mind. These people were capitulating in the hope that it would save a girl’s life. It probably wouldn’t. And I was complicit, not abetting them, no, but certainly aiding them, taking money to carry their money. Why? Broke and prospectless, that was a good enough reason. If not me, then someone else.

I got out my book and found the number of Corin McCall, garden designer and lecturer in horticulture, my date after class. It had taken me five months to find the courage to ask her out, five months of doing all my homework, spending hours formulating intelligent questions, shaving before my night class.

‘McCall.’ She had a deep voice for such a lean and wiry person. A little electric jolt went through me the first time she spoke to the class.‘

Corin, Frank Calder.’ It occurred to me that I’d never said her name. I coughed. ‘Listen, I couldn’t get to class…’

‘I noticed,’ she said. ‘And you can’t make it tonight.’

‘Called out for an urgent job. I’m really sorry, I’d turn it down, but…’

She said, ‘That’s fine, Frank, happens to me all the time. I mean, I do this to people.’ Pause. ‘Anyhow, I’m exhausted, wouldn’t have been good company.’

‘Can we make another time? Next week? Any night.’

‘I’m in the bush on Monday and Tuesday, possibly Wednesday.

You could give me a call mid-week.’

‘I will. I’ll call you.’

‘Yes, call me. I await your call.’

‘I await calling you. I’m sorry I spoiled your evening. You could’ve taken up another offer.’

Corin laughed. ‘It’s early, I may still.’

‘Goodnight. See you next week.’

‘Goodnight. Call me.’

BOOK: Shooting Star
10.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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