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Authors: Peter Temple

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BOOK: Shooting Star
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‘Play it, Graham,’ said Tom, no bark in his voice this time.

Noyce played it.

Tom Carson.

Pause.

So you think Carson money can buy anything, don’t you? Just money, that’s what you thought, isn’t it?

Pause.

Tom:
We’ve followed your instructions.

Becoming
less
stupid.
Learning
to do what you’re told and…
Tom:
We’ve done that. Now… Shut up. Don’t say NOW to me. I don’t take your orders. I don’t need your money.

Tom:
All we want…

Shut up, I’m talking to you. You’re not talking to your tame cops now. You don’t have the money to buy your way out of this. You’re talking to someone quite different now. Do you hear me? Hear me, cunt?

Tom:
We’ll do whatever you want…

I WANT YOU TO
SUFFER
AS YOU HAVE MADE OTHERS SUFFER. I WANT YOU TO FEEL
PAIN
AS YOU HAVE MADE
OTHERS
FEEL PAIN. I WANT YOU TO
BLEED
TO DEATH.

Click.

No one said anything for a while, the harsh electronic voice reverberating in the room. Then Stephanie took a big drink of whisky. I looked at my watch. It was just on 6 p.m. ‘Can we watch the news on Seven somewhere?’ I said.

Noyce found a remote control. A section of panelling on the righthand wall parted, revealing a large television monitor. He clicked twice more. We watched commercials and previews before a woman newsreader with a starched and ironed face appeared. She did the
There were amazing scenes today
preamble. Then we saw a man wearing dark glasses and a Collingwood beanie pulled down to his eyebrows on the top level of the Great Southern Stand. He stood at the parapet, reached into a bag, threw handfuls of paper into the air. Some of the bits of paper blew backwards into the stand behind him, some fluttered down and were sucked into the packed tiers below, others drifted down onto the field, where people jumped the fence and a feeding frenzy developed. After half-a-dozen handfuls, the thrower got bored, tipped the bag over the edge, shook it. Large wads of paper fell out. The camera zoomed in on the paper-thrower but my collar was up and I kept my chin down. Then I turned and walked up the ramp.

The voice-over said:

A police spokesman said it was a miracle that no one was seriously injured in the near-riots that developed as football fans fought over the new fifty-dollar notes. No exact figure is available on the sum of money thrown from the Great Southern Stand by the unknown man, but police put the amount at more than a hundred thousand dollars.

We cut to a Collingwood supporter, a woman wearing a black and white sweater and scarf and holding a fifty-dollar note in each hand for the camera. ‘One bloke caught seven fifties, stuck together,’ she said. ‘They was fallin like rain.’ She had a tooth missing next to her left canine, itself a yellow, endangered outcrop.

Noyce switched off the set, and the panels reunited at the behest of the remote.

‘Well,’ said Tom, looking at me. ‘A fucking novel way to redistribute wealth. What point are we at now?’

‘At the point where we phone the cops,’ I said. ‘You’re not dealing with the greedy. The unhinged, that’s what you’ve got here. And this is personal.’

‘No,’ said Tom. ‘The old man says no. I agree.’

‘He’s heard this person?’

Tom nodded. ‘We’ve shown we’re willing to pay, not to bring in the police, we should take the next step.’

‘I’m not getting this over to you,’ I said. ‘Next step? Who says there’s a next step? If I understand the message, and it’s not in fucking code—excuse me, Ms Chadwick—this isn’t about money. It’s about causing you pain. You personally possibly, maybe the whole family. Pain. Lots of pain. It’s not a commercial transaction.

Not buyers and sellers. They want to hurt you and the ultimate hurt is killing the girl.’

I paused. ‘Don’t you think you should let the girl’s parents decide whether to call in the cops?’

Silence.

The Carsons didn’t want to look at each other, didn’t want to look at me. Finally, Barry said, ‘We’re having trouble getting hold of Mark. It may be a while before we can reach him.’

I pushed on. ‘Her mother, then.’

Tom wasn’t going to be pushed. He drew on the panatella, exhaled in a resigned way, said in a level tone, not unpleasant, ‘Frank, we’re not paying you for that kind of advice. We don’t need that kind of advice.’

Tightness in my face, around the eyes, the mouth. I paid attention to the feeling. When you know that the rational part of your brain is no longer in full control, you can do something about that. Or not.

I looked at the carpet, at nothing, took my time, looked up, at Tom, he didn’t blink, a hard buyer in a buyer’s market, at Barry, who met my gaze, flicked his eyes downwards, away, and at Stephanie, whose expression carried a hint of apology for her father.

‘Okay,’ I said, steady now. ‘It’s not clear to me what you’re paying me for. But, since you are paying, let me say that we may be in for a long wait. And sooner or later, you will call in the police. If they release Anne, if they don’t, at some point you have to call the cops. So, things we can do now will save hours, days maybe, when that happens.’

‘Such as?’

‘Ask the basic questions. Try to get some feeling for who these people might be. I don’t think we risk spooking them. Fifty cops around the record store, yes. Two blokes looking around, no. And get Jahn, Cullinan to draw up a list of ex-employees who might have a grudge. Going back five years. That’ll save lots of time when the crunch comes.’

There was a moment when Tom was poised to say no. I could see it in his eyes, in the way he moved his head.

Stephanie had an unlit cigarette in her mouth, tilted her head back to look up at her father. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I agree with Frank. We can’t just sit here hoping it’ll turn out well if we throw bags of money at them. And that voice, my God, that’s not someone you can buy off. That’s someone…I don’t know. Hates.’

Tom looked down at her.

‘Frank’s right, Dad,’ she said.

He sighed, put his hand on her shoulder. ‘I’ll talk to the old man.’

‘One more thing,’ I said. ‘If anyone has even the vaguest suspicion about who these people might be, some personal grudge perhaps, this is the time to tell me.’

Silence. Tom shrugged. Barry shrugged. Stephanie and Noyce shook their heads.

‘What about Mark?’

‘No,’ said Tom. ‘Mark’s been a fool in business but he doesn’t have enemies like that.’

CARMEN GEARY didn’t seem to be in shock over the disappearance of her friend. She looked me over as if I were applying for a position for which looks were important. Her own looks put her closer to twenty than any fifteen-year-old should be, a long-legged girl-woman with gleaming dark hair that had continually to be pushed away, theatrically, from her face.

‘The man,’ I said. ‘Can you describe him?’

She blinked her lashes at me. ‘Sure. Old. Sort of dirty looking, glasses with thick lenses…’ ‘Dirty. What, like unshaven?’

‘No. Not unshaven, just sort of dirty, y’know.’

‘The glasses. Shape?’

‘Big old-fashioned ones, squarish, with thick black frames.’

‘Thick lenses?’

‘No, don’t think so.’

‘How far away?’

‘Close. Over there, sort of.’ She pointed at the window wall.

‘Anything else about him?’

‘The cap. A red cap.’

‘A baseball cap?’

She nodded. ‘Makita logo on it.’

We were upstairs in Pat Carson’s mansion, in a comfortably furnished sitting room with French doors to a balcony. Carmen’s mother, Lauren, was next door, in an office with filing cabinets and a computer on a neat desk. ‘It’s like running a medium-size hotel,’ she’d said on the way upstairs. ‘I was housekeeper at three Hiltons. This is much the same.’

‘Although in hotels even the most troublesome guests eventually leave,’ I said.

She laughed. It was a deep, good-natured laugh. ‘There is that to look forward to in hotels,’ she said.

I asked the question on my mind. ‘Does the remuneration here include school fees?’

Lauren laughed again. ‘That was Mr Pat Carson’s idea. He said, “When you live with the family and look after the family, you’re part of the family. And so your child goes to school where the Carsons go.”’

Now I said to Carmen, ‘You saw him three times and he was there when you went into the store and still there when you came out.’

Hair brushed away, fingers flicking outwards. ‘No. He was still there the first two times. The third time he wasn’t. Frank. Trams come all the time, so he wasn’t waiting for a tram.’

‘When was the last time you saw him?’

‘On Thursday.’

‘What time was that?’

Carmen shifted in her chair, recrossed her legs in her short skirt.

‘Twenty past four, around then.’

‘That wouldn’t give you much time in the store.’

‘No. We’re only there twenty-five minutes, something like that.’

Hand flicking hair. ‘How old are you, Frank?’

I ignored the question. ‘What sport do you play at school, Carmen?’

‘Sport? Oh, tennis.’ She was scratching her head. ‘And swimming. We swim. What do you play? Do you work out?’

‘Does Anne have anyone special she talks to at the record shop?’

‘Special?’ She smiled, head on one side, lips well apart showing perfect teeth, a cover-girl smile, asked the mock-naive question.

‘You mean, like a boy?’

‘Something like that, yes.’

‘Not really. Well, boys are always coming on to you. I bet girls come on to you. Do they?’

‘Not since I stopped washing ten years ago,’ I said, unsmiling. ‘So there’s no boyfriend?’

She had her right hand at her face. ‘Boyfriend? No. No boyfriend.’

‘And you’d know, wouldn’t you?’

She spoke from behind her fingers, the other hand running up and down her left thigh. ‘Wouldn’t everyone? This place’s a jail. Everyone’s paranoid.’

‘On Thursday, you came out about 4.50 when you couldn’t find Anne.’

‘Yes.’

‘Crowded, the store?’

‘Yes. Lots of kids.’ Carmen was moistening her upper lip with a tongue tip, a perfectly pink arrowhead.

‘Often get separated when you’re in the store?’

‘Well, if you’re talking to someone else, you don’t notice what the person you’re with’s doing. But quarter to five’s when Dennis picks us up, so I looked around, couldn’t see her, went all over the place.’ She looked down. ‘I got a bit scared.’

‘That’s being paranoid, is it?’

Carmen sniffed. ‘Bit, I suppose.’

‘Happened before? Couldn’t find Anne?’

Wide eyes on me. ‘No.’

‘What did Dennis do when you went to the car and told him?’

‘Double-parked. We went back in and looked again. Then Dennis got the call on his mobile.’

‘The call?’

‘From Graham. About the kidnap call to Anne’s grandpa.’

I sat back, elbows on the chair arms, fingers interlocked, and looked into her eyes.

‘That’s the chaplain’s look,’ said Carmen. ‘He does that, he’s a spunk, a girl in another class saw him in St Kilda at one in the morning with this like real tart…’

‘On a mission of mercy, no doubt,’ I said, standing, feeling the pain in my leg. ‘Thanks for talking to me, Carmen. Think about Thursday, anything could be important.’

‘You’re a Capricorn, aren’t you?’ she said, head on one side again, all front teeth on show. ‘Can’t be faithful.’

‘Can’t even be hopeful,’ I said. ‘There’s one other thing I just remembered. The school says neither of you has played any sport this term. On Tuesdays or Thursdays. So you’d have to be doing something else on Tuesdays and Thursdays, wouldn’t you.’

I gave her a while to answer, held her eyes, not smiling. Then I said, ‘It’s what you don’t tell me you’ll be sorry about.’

Her pink tongue came out again and licked a lower lip as red and full as a late-season plum.

‘His name’s Craig,’ she said. ‘That’s all I know, I swear.’

THE DRIVERS’ quarters were in an overgrown brick cottage ten metres from the stairs leading to the Carsons’ basement carpark. There was always a driver on call, night and day, said Noyce.

Whitton came to the door with his jacket on, ready for work.

‘A few more words,’ I said.

‘Sure, right, come in.’

We went in. ‘This is Michael Orlovsky. He works with me.’

Whitton put out his right hand. Orlovsky kept his hands in his pockets, nodded.

The staff did well in the Carson compound. Whitton’s room looked as if it had been done by a decorator, tweeds and checks and a group of architectural prints on a wall.

BOOK: Shooting Star
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