Instalment 30: pages 122 - 126 [Elliot speaks to David, Marina's father, about what Marina discovered of his business dealings]
“I was storing some documents at home. In the safe. She knew the combination, sometimes left things there. She must have found them. They were annexes, schedules. Additions to the environmental impact statement for High Trees the consultant chose …” He caught my eye for a moment. “All right, was persuaded, to leave off. Nothing major, just bits and pieces. Taken together they might have given a misleading picture. Part of the development pitch was on-site preliminary sewage treatment and partial water recycling for gardens. Revolutionary potential for reducing water waste and impact on the city sewage system. Some of the annexes dealt with the risk and consequences of any overflow of raw sewage straight into the Molongolo river system. But it wasn’t really a risk, so we left it out. The proposal made it cheaper for the Territory government to hook the site to the city sewage and looked green on paper as well.”
“Was green,” he muttered, waving a hand at me. He carried on in a lower, more urgent tone as he sunk into his chair, his little burst of commanding presence spent. “Besides, Elliot, somewhere, you already know where she is. If anyone has the answer, it’d be you. Marina never thought I knew her. But I know that much.”
In the increasingly orange light, his face became a different country, one less resilient, more arid, mined of everything fertile and then left stripped, riven with old dry channels and fissures. In that light I almost thought that it was my fury that had baked him to this handful of reddening dirt that any angry gust would scatter.
“Find her,” he said, at last. “Find her before they do. They’ll be looking too, now. But make sure it’s you that finds her. We can contain the damage, if it’s you.”
It was only when I hit the street that I realised Carmichael might still be hiding something. He’d also said to find her before “they” do, without telling me if “they” still meant the police. Had Marina not just seen the missing reports, but taken them? Were those the missing documents that had led to the nastnasty little exchange Daphne overheard? If she’d stolen documents belonging to Bob Mitchell she could well be in trouble – but how could that involve Jenny? Who got killed over environmental planning issues?
The Wig and Pen wasn’t far away, but I walked the long way round, trying to let some of my anger simmer off before seeing Danielle.
The Pen is a Canberra institution, possibly the longest continuously operated pub in town and it boasts its own, tiny award-winning brewery. The faux-English alehouse interior is a weird addition to a seventies concrete and pebblecrete grey-brown office block, but no matter. Danielle was sitting near the bar, not difficult given the size of the place, the tea-coloured cloudiness of a lemon lime and bitters in front of her, idly turning the pages of the Canberra Times.
“Hi,” she said. “I called Eva. Let her know she was better off waiting for you at home.”
“Thanks for that.”
“So, how are you feeling?” she asked.
I exhaled. “I should ask you the same thing. You haven’t been questioned by police before.”
She shook her head. “We’ve been over me. You’ve had about the worst morning I can think of. So what did David Carmichael want?”
I’d thought about this. Amazing as it seemed, it looked like Danielle was going to stick with me. She looked a little tired in the set or her mouth and shoulders, but her eyes held mine without a flicker of hesitation, clear and reliable as the cloudless winter sky. There’s that feeling at the beginning of a romance, something you only get in timbre of Louis Armstrong or the footwork of Fred Astaire: an awareness of good fortune that just keeps swelling inside, until all available room is gone and you feel like someone with ribs three sizes too big for their frame. Happy enough to burst. Briefly, she’d pushed my anger and resentment aside. There was only one thing to do, tell her the truth – or, I thought in that flipside hesitancy of new feelings, at least enough of it for now.
“Carmichael wants me to find Marina. No-one has heard from her since she told Daphne she was going to your place. It’s been nearly a week.”
“Jesus,” said Danielle. “You don’t mean she could be – like Jenny?”
“I don’t know.”
“But why would he ask you? Surely the police … ?”
“Because I think he’s persuaded the police, somehow, that Marina’s absence isn’t suspicious yet. I don’t know. And because – because he’s had me looking for Marina for a few days now. Since I saw you at the coast.”
She sat back in her chair and looked at me for a moment, head slightly to one side. A slightly curling strand of hair fell from behind her ear across her slightly upturned cheek. I wanted to reach out and slip in back behind its mooring, but I held my place and waited until she spoke. “I don’t suppose I really thought you had been at Bateman’s with a friend. I guess I thought you were looking for a reconciliation with Marina. But when we … well, got along so easily, I just stopped thinking about it.”
“Me too. Looking for her I mean. While I was there. Crazy isn’t it?”
“How easily this – us – has run,” I said.
“You call this morning easy?” she asked, but smilingly.
“So you don’t mind me looking for Marina? Running around after an ex?”
“What kind of stupid are you, Elliot?” she said. “If she’s in trouble and you can help, you should. You’re going to tell anything you find out to the police, aren’t you?”
“If I can find Marina, I think she deserves a chance to go to the police under her own steam,” I said cautiously. “There is one other thing we should be clear about. I’m not doing this entirely out of the goodness of my heart. Carmichael’s paying me. Pretty well.” Danielle didn’t say anything, so I ploughed on. “Look, I’m a law graduate still only working part-time as a librarian, and if Carmichael’s right that’s about the best prospect I’ve got in this town. This is something I’d do anyway, but I can’t afford to turn down Carmichael’s money. Also, I couldn’t have afforded the drive down to the coast on my own without it.”
Danielle smiled slightly. “What I don’t understand,” she said, “is why you think I’d have a problem with you being paid for this at all. Provided you don’t do anything stupid. Get yourself hurt, or anything.”
“Eva’s always telling me I’m a bear of very little brain,” I answered. “And no, I won’t be doing anything stupid. I just have to find Marina, get her to call her Dad, and the cops obviously. After that, with a bit of luck, I’m out of the woods.”
I knew it wouldn’t be as simple as that of course. What I didn’t suspect was how much less simple, and how very much more painful things were going to get.