Instalment 34: pages 140 - 143 [Elliot interviews a man, Jeremy Ryder, connected to Marina's father's dubious business deals]
Jeremy Ryder’s house was enough to tell me we were poles apart in the Canberra status game. It was a serious address in Yarralumla, not that far as the crow flies from Hamilton Row, but worlds away in terms of the dollar-figure on the rates notice. It was an architect-designed house with what looked like two-floor high front feature wall of glass, half screened behind a dark blue privacy wall punctuated by a slender front gate, and a higher one across the driveway. Any view into the upper floor was obscured by the street’s established trees. This was an address fit for a minor consular official, senior bureaucrat, or a smaller pacific nation’s head of mission. It was not the house of a thirty-four year old. With a park and primary school nearby, it was real estate agent tick-a-box perfect. I pulled up across the road, and once again had intimations of my own cluelessness. I’d no idea of what to do next.
Then I noticed the paper was still on the front nature-strip. Someone had either not gone out yet, or had left in too much of a hurry to collect it. I sat pondering this for a while, then got out of my car and paused again.
Delay worked in my favour. I heard a door open somewhere behind the blue wall, then the front gate swung back and a man in long pyjama pants and a dressing gown strode out. His pants were red silk, the grey-blue gown was clotted with dense-pattern paisley. I’d once left meat marinading uncovered in the fridge too long, and it had come out looking suspiciously like his robe.
As one silk-clad arm swooped for the paper, I crossed the road.
“Mr Ryder? Daniel Chough, Department of Planning and Land Management,” I called out.
He stiffened, as any good developer would. No-one who wants to build something likes seeing a PALM officer.
“Sorry to disturb you at home Mr Ryder, but your number’s not listed, and neither Mr Mitchell or Mr Carmichael is returning my calls. It’s rather urgent I’m afraid.”
Ryder straightened. He was a tall man, and broad shouldered. Spiky gingerish hair covered the crown of his head and his chin to about the same length. Through half-open dressing gown one could see the flat pectorals and corrugated stomach of a gym addict. The hand clutching his newspaper, though, ended in the longest fingers I’ve seen on a man. Each finger seemed half as long again as his palm: even holding a stout paper they curved back far enough to touch his arm just above the wrist. Without the paper, I suspected his fingers would fall within a whisker of brushing his kneecap. There was no way to tell, though, as his right hand remained in his robe pocket. He reminded me of nothing so much as a fit, freshly shaved orang-utan.
He looked me over: slacks, under-polished shoes, unironed shirt open at the collar. It must have passed for his impression of a public-servant, as he turned and gestured towards the open gate with his paper.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name?”
His voice was deep: matey, but thick with politeness.
“Well, I’m not quite ready to talk business, Daniel. Could you give me a minute to get a shirt and some coffee on?”
“Not a problem,” I said. “Just glad to have caught someone at home. I’m not disturbing a day off?”
“Nah,” he replied. “I’m a day trader. Some days I follow the markets on-line until New York and Hong Kong close. Then I sleep in, if I’ve earned a break and can afford the late start on local trading.”
He was walking, I was following. Inside his gate was a forecourt. We crossed a small bridge over a pad-strewn pond that winked furtively with goldfish to a door in the wall of glass. He led me through a foyer and into a broad, slate-floored lounge room, with long windows on one side out over a tidy, enclosed back yard. The room could have been hewn from obsidian: black slate, black leather upholstery and large chrome-trimmed black television and stereo in a matching cabinet. A Turkish rug patterned in red and orange served as a wall-hanging, the only visible daub of colour, other than the swatch of grass visible outside. A door beside the wall-hanging lead through into a home office: a Spartan desk with a keyboard, flat computer-screen and no visible computer.
“Day trader?” I asked.
“Stock market. It’s all about short-term profit: the margin you make buying and selling in the same day.”
“It’s a good game,” he answered, smiling, “with a little training and some nerve.”
“Like gambling?” I asked.
He laughed. “I’ll get some coffee started, you make yourself comfortable. Feel free to put a CD on.”
Alone in the room, I wandered over to the entertainment cabinet. Next to the CD player were a couple of open racks of disks: some composers I recognised, some dance DJs I did not and no jazz, other than a best-of Dave Bruebeck album – which counted, I suppose. I drifted past the enormous flat screen television to a closed door on the other side of the cabinet, in search of any low-rotation CDs not on open display.
Opening the cabinet door I was astonished. Utterly gobsmacked.
One man does not rifle around in another bloke’s low drawers or high cupboards. Boxes found in discreet corners, or tucked under beds are left there, unopened. You make no presumption about what they contain, but do really not want to run the risk of knowing what might be inside. It’s a strict, silent, don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t think it, didn’t see it anyway code of male conduct.
In Ryder’s lounge room, in a perfectly fashionable black entertainment cabinet, within fingertip reach of any visitor, I had just come across a truly prodigious collection of pornography. Six broad shelves of X-rated video spines: paraded slivers of breast and thigh, pout and eyebrow and awful, punning titles. Still, as a librarian there was one thing I was bound to notice: the collection was catalogued. Each case was neatly labelled with a serial number, what looked like a Fyshwick business address and the legend “DeliciousSerpents.com.au”. I heard the hiss of a coffee maker in the kitchen, and shut the door gingerly. Mr Ryder either had another line of business beyond being a day trader and developer; or took his hobbies terribly seriously.
Ryder returned bearing my steaming shot of black coffee in a cornflower blue cup and saucer.
“Found anything you like?” he asked as he passed it to me.
My brain froze.
“Mind if I put the Bruebeck on?” I managed eventually.