If Daphne Carmichael had sounded a little rattled when last we spoke, something now seemed to have crystallised: there had still been an edge in her voice, but determination as well. I looked round the flat, not bad. I wasn’t dating her daughter any more, but still felt some compulsion to tidy up. I wouldn’t have bothered rinsing the dishes for her husband, but after a quick breakfast of fried eggs on toast I filled the sink and did the washing up to distract myself. From the kitchen I had a view over the balcony to the street, so it was as good a place as any to watch for her car pulling up.
Within twenty minutes Daphne stepped from a beige Volvo onto the nature strip, clothes matching the jade pendant she wore on a thin gold chain. I wandered out to the top of our stairs as she, looking about in confusion, entered the long courtyard below. Doors were scattered around her in bewildering array: upstairs, ground level and even some below street-level apartments all wrapped in planter box ivy and the bare skeletons of Manchurian pear trees. Not easy to navigate since some kids nicked from the entrance the heavy metal plate with its map of apartment numbers. She stepped aside as the Next-Doors walked by with bed-heads and bundles of slats.
“Up here,” I called.
She came round to the stairs and looked at them frowningly, and then stiffly began to climb them, at each step her weight heavily on the railing.
“Can I help?” I asked.
She waved me off: “Bad knee, that’s all. A little early arthritis.”
“The cold can’t be good for it.”
She didn’t answer that, but stepped inside, glancing round again.
“This is nice,” she said, rounding the corner into the dining room. “It’s a good size.”
“It’s not Red Hill,” I said, putting on the kettle. “Coffee?”
“Tea, Elliot. I’m aware that there is a world outside Red Hill. I visit it frequently.”
“Sorry,” I answered. I was suddenly aware of a doubleness of things: I could picture Marina emerging from the door to Daphne’s left in my spare dressing gown, the awful polyester paisley thing my grandfather had given me. Not a good memory to be juxtaposing with her mother. I set the tea bag floating in one of the nicer coffee mugs and scrounged out the matching saucer. I put both in front of her and then awkwardly remembered the matter of milk. The only thing we had that would pass for a milk jug was chipped, but I filled it and brought out my coffee plunger and mug.
“Thank you,” she said.
“So, this is about Marina. Isn’t it?”
“Elliot, I need to know what you’re doing for my husband,” she said calmly, placing her tea bag on the saucer’s rim with a tinkle of her teaspoon. “When I said I wouldn’t mention your visit to him you seemed rather relieved. I need to know why.”
I grimaced. “If I was doing anything for him, he might expect it to be confidential.”
“I didn’t come here to reopen wounds, but you’re not a solicitor. Don’t talk to me about client confidentiality. This is about my daughter’s safety.”
I felt my jaw clench, then let it go and sighed. Once again, she had my number. “You’re right. I’m sorry to fence with you. David’s not been honest with you, which makes me think he hasn’t been straight with me. I don’t think he’s told the police about Marina at all, he’s intimated as much. He’s asked me to find her, hinted that there were … delicacies.”
I didn’t need to name the Minister.
“He’s paying you?”
“Two-fifty a day,” I said shamefacedly.
“Good for you, Elliot,” she said, sipping her tea. “Good for you. All right, that helps. You see … I think he’s still involved with Bob Mitchell. Something I overheard last night.”
I raised my eyebrows and leaned back, opening up the space between us.
“David came home and went straight to his study. He said he’d be using the net, looking something up for our January holiday. I had to make a call, but when I put it on the speaker to dial he was already talking. He said: ‘Look, I’ve told you, they’re safe. I just didn’t have time to get at them today. I was in court. I know you said they weren’t to leave my office, but that isn’t always warrant-proof.’ I hung up before much more was said.”
“Come on Daphne, give me the rest.”
“A man started yelling at him. ‘I don’t want this turning to shit, David.’ Really yelling. I was afraid David would hear something from my end of the house if I didn’t hang up. He’s still involved with Bob Mitchell. I think it’s why Miranda’s keeping away.”
“You could be right, Daphne,” I said. It certainly squared with Mitchell’s bully-boy reputation. “I called David’s receptionist and she gave away that Mitchell had been in recently.”
“My husband is lying to me, Elliot.”
“I don’t care what he thinks, I’m calling the police about Marina.”
“That’s probably a good idea. I went down to Danielle’s after we spoke, and she wasn’t there. Got back yesterday.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I told David.” It sounded weak, but better than I freaked out driving back, then got belayed by wine and a woman’s blue eyes.
“Because he was paying you? No, don’t answer. Look Elliot, I want my daughter found and I … I don’t know what I want from David right now, but it you think you have a chance of finding her, I want you to keep looking. Even if David calls you off, I’ll pick up the bills. Whatever you need. I don’t care if it’s you or the police, but I just want her found. I’ve left this to David too long. Far too long.”
I nodded, and ran a hand across my chin.
“Daphne,” I began, “you’re welcome to call them from here, but if you’re going home first, could you drop me somewhere? My car’s in Dickson, I could really use a lift to Woden.”