Instalment 33: pages 136 - 139 [Elliot continues his late-night interview with Jenny and Marina's boss, Milton Dawes, Minister for Justice and Customs]
“I am terribly concerned for Marina’s safety, given the tragedy that’s befallen Jenny,” he said. The concern sounded genuine. I could hear him dictating the press-release. Switchblade-quick, his tone suddenly changed: “Don’t mistake me Elliot, I want the bastard who did this caught. Marina being missing is not yet considered related, but the police are going to start asking questions of her family and friends. Once they’ve covered the basic groundwork about Jenny, they’ll be looking at any link with Marina. To dismiss it, or see if it ties in. I’d like to know that she’s safe, but I don’t want to embarrass her if she’s just dropped her bundle and run out.”
“You know something about the ground falling out from under you,” I said. A statement, not a question.
He refocussed on me with a sudden blink. I could sense the momentary re-evaluation, I’d let him know I’d done some homework. “Yes,” he answered, “I do at that.
“Two days, maximum, before the police have to go public about Marina: if nothing turns up soon, given how long it’s been since anyone heard from her, there’ll have to be a public appeal for anyone with information to come forward. If you can think of where she might be before then, you should tell them. Or tell her to get in touch. As a matter of absolute priority, Elliot.”
There was a pause, a space in the dark into which he finally concluded his speech.
“And you can tell her from me, she still has her job. No matter what.”
He pushed back in his chair, taking his eyes from me. It seemed that as far as he was concerned, he had made his generous pronouncement, pardoned his old school-friend’s daughter, and our conversation was over. Is he absolving her, I thought, or himself? I shifted in my chair, feeling the need to ask something: get something from this little fireside chat. I put my glass down and leaned forward.
“You seem very confident nothing’s happened to her,” I said.
His lips moved in a slight, grim smile. “I’m not at all confident one way or the other Elliot. But if the worst has already happened, nothing you do is going to hurt the investigation. What you do won’t matter at all. I only hope that it will.”
That was the end of my interview with the Minister. I had trouble imagining what it was about as I returned to my car. The whole discussion just couldn’t cohere in my mind. I had to see Dawes as a person, not as The Minister. Only then would the encounter begin to seem comprehensible. She still has her job, I thought, no matter what. It wasn’t an absolution, it was a fear. What did Marina know that could scare him? Was it something that could cause the ground to slip from under him again? And what had de-railed his fast-track career in the first place? It occurred to me that the Minister and I might have something in common: a past that had barred a future in legal practice.
I drove home in the dark, got in without waking Eva, and took a long, long time to fall asleep. I was shaking, shaking even more than I had when I’d earlier tried to fumble my keys into the lock of my car. The night pressed down on me as I realised why: it wasn’t the Minister’s bullying tone, or the pressure of seeing him so soon after seeing one of his employee’s corpses. I had taken up night-driving again.
That thought, and all it brought back, was enough to keep me awake a good time longer, lying alone in the night.
Nervous, exhausted sleep swallowed me late, and when I woke I’d missed Eva. I had really hoped talking with her would help shepherd my thoughts into useful order, but I felt unusually reluctant to call her that morning. I was suddenly suspicious of discussing a conversation with the Justice Minister over my home phone line. Mere paranoia? I watched the white papers scud in the wind across the black tar of the Curtin shops car-park, mirroring the motion of clouds above.
There was a police car in the parking lot, I noticed. Nearby a man sat quietly slumped on the ground, by the wheel of his car, his hands behind his back. Handcuffed, I thought. While I watched a policeman donned little plastic gloves and began to look through the car. A paddy wagon pulled up. It was quite surreal. I wondered what they had stopped the guy for and what they were hoping to find in his car. I felt an inexplicable twinge of sympathy for him: even if you’re a drug dealer, a murderer, a hold-up artist, you don’t expect to be nabbed while getting a bottle of milk down the shops. But there it was, the visible intrusion of authority into the everyday. It made me think of Dawes. The police in the carpark, in a very real sense, worked for him. They were, effectively, the guys who’d taken me in Sunday morning; the guys who’d seen me remanded in cold white concrete until my own trial. Doing their job? Yes, but it didn’t mean their existence didn’t rankle; that the existence of their boss and his games and intimated threats.
I wasn’t really sure what was going on anymore. Somehow I’d rattled David enough that he’d persuaded the Minister to step in and impress upon me how limited my duties were. It really wasn’t going to work. Marina was a good deal smarter than me (How, I wondered, do I keep pulling bright women?) and if I was going to find her I needed to know what she had known about High Trees. It was time to start my digging again.
If David was pulling in favours to have Dawes frighten me off looking out too far, or in to deep, all he’d succeeded in doing was getting me angry, and increasingly determined that I would bloody well talk to whoever I wanted. The ASIC searches listed the home addresses of everyone with a stake in the High Trees deal. I did baulk at starting off at the top with Bob Mitchell, that just seemed a bit silly, but I wondered if I could corner this Jeremy Ryder of Charcot Co, owner of thirty-percent of High Trees, at home. I had his date of birth from the documents too. Eight years older than me. Law and politics tend to be gerontocracies: the big prizes go to the aged, the experienced, the time-servers. Given that I’d spent the last week mixing with lawyers, politicians, their families and employees I went and made an obvious mistake in choosing Ryder as the easier mark: equating age with power, and lack of age with being on the same footing as me.
Still, I’d decided it was time to get out of the house and do something.