Naylor's Canberra
freshly squeezed pulp noir

Saturday, December 13, 2003  

Instalment 37: pages 152 - 156 [Elliot continues his internet research into the businesses owned by Jeremy Ryder]

I tried “Unchaperoned” and also got a Fyshwick address. Suspecting what I would find, I tapped it into the yellow pages as a business-name search.

One entry: escorts.

I clicked, and the relatively tame yellow pages ad came up.

Unchaperoned, for gentlemen of taste.
Meet ladies of distinction in relaxed, stylish surroundings.
All tastes catered for.
All major credit cards. Discreet billing. Out-calls available.

Beside it a grainy soft-focus picture of a reclining woman wearing a garment of indeterminate description, but one suspected, little practical function. If Unchaperoned tried to breath a little class and dignity into the flesh trade, Butterflies was aiming at a rather different market:

Rare Oriental Beauties!
Good rates! Full body massage from $35 dollars!
(Other services, call for current prices.)
New Asian ladies weekly!
Parking at rear.

I briefly toyed with the idea of looking up - but it wasn’t the sort of thing you wanted recorded on your work computer. Regardless of what multitude of minor sins the Delicious Serpents business name might cover, it was evident that Mr Rainer, finance-world wizard and small-time developer, was also a porn lord and, on the paperwork, sole owner of two brothels.

What was going on here? Why was David, a respectability-obsessed barrister, doing business with someone steeped in Canberra’s licit, but seamy, sex trades? What was in it for him? I didn’t like David, but I couldn’t picture him being the sort to go for mates’ rates at a brothel or having some sort of hidden half-share in an adult video wholesaler. Still, if he did it would give Ryder a lot of leverage over him – and if Ryder was buddies with Mitchell, that could explain why David had not only stayed on as Mitchell’s business partner, but lied to his family about it. The three had to be stitched together somehow; all their names connected to the High Trees deal. I needed to tie some of this stuff down. Before I started speculating about my employer’s putative extra-marital sex life, I should investigate some tangible leads.

I still hadn’t called Danielle or Poppa, but that was going to have to wait. If Ryder called Mark Stephens, I might need to cover my tracks. I called Mark’s secretary and found he was in Sydney for three day’s training – that would give me a little breathing space. I told her I was doing some research for a client, and if Jeremy Ryder called, I should not be mentioned – but it would be useful if I was told about the call. Then I called Eva.

“Hello stranger,” she said. “I didn’t hear you go out last night did I? Not sneaking away with the new girl under cover of darkness are you? There’s no need.”

“Believe me, Eva, I wish I had been. It was a much weirder night than that. But remind me to call Danielle this evening, if I haven’t already. Anyway, remember the fossilized industrial relations expert you told me about, the one who’d know what Mitchell’s got buried in the metaphorical back yard? I’m going to need that favour. How soon could you set me up to meet him?”

Eva sighed: “His name’s Dave Pritchard. You’ll catch him any working day at the Phoenix by five twenty-two. I’ll let him know you’re my mate and tell him to look out for an idiot lawyer in old jacket.”

“Five twenty-two?”

“His gig as the Industrial Relations Institute’s director of research finishes at five fifteen. He once told me it’s an exact seven minute walk from there to the Phoenix. Look for the balding guy at the bar with his jacket zipped all the way to his neck. I think he thinks it conceals his paunch. Or the state of his shirts. Or something.”

“You’re a gem.”

“Just be discreet,” she said. “People who have a fond working relationship with all their toes and fingers don’t go asking loud questions about Mitchell in crowded bars. And don’t expect Dave to go beyond background info and the party line.”
“What use is that going to be to me?”

“Heaps, given that neither of us know any of the war stories from Mitchell’s glory days. And Dave will either give you a straight answer or silence. I’d trust what he says, as far as it goes.”

“Great stuff. Will he still be there at six?”

She snorted. “I’ll tell him he’ll be seeing you. What are you up to now?”

“I dropped by to see one of David Carmichael’s business mates this morning, he looks to have a bit of a dodgy side-line that’s worth digging into. He’s got the week pencilled in for a conference. I thought I might go out and have a poke around.”

“And how, exactly, is this helping you find Marina?”

“I’m working on that.”

“Well, work on remaining out of hospital, huh? I like my flatmates breathing. What happened to Jenny, well – I mean, it’s a tragedy, but it’s pretty scary. If it’s mixed up with Marina running off, and you’re mixed up with finding her …”

“Nothing I haven’t thought myself babe, I’m not the reckless type.”

Babe. I’ll make sure to tell the girlfriend that.”

She hung up on me, cheerfully. She was right about one thing of course, this was not obviously helping in the hunt for Marina. Still, my thinking ran like this – in as much as I was thinking and not running on adrenalin-rattled reflex – Marina had found out about the problems with the Tall Trees development. Either ACTFLA [?] had been lazy in not spotting the way the environmental plan didn’t address the on-site sewage issue, or the partnership had inside connections. Still, there had to be more Carmichael hadn’t told me, given how easily he’d volunteered the information about the bodgy environmental audit. That was certainly bad for him, but hardly damming, and probably meant he’d given it up to distract me from something worse. It looked like Marina had found the sewage documents, along with whatever else Carmichael was hiding, and made off with them while she considered what to do about her father and his below-the-table business deals. Maybe the Minister and Jenny’s death were somehow connected, maybe not. Hopefully not.

Regardless, after my visit to Ryder it would be clear that the little business syndicate had a problem. You’d expect Ryder to be placing a few calls to his compatriots. He was scheduled to be at his conference, but it would be interesting to see if any of the other names and faces I’d crossed paths with showed up. I had the impression Ryder had taken a look at my license plates, but a white laser is a pretty common car in Canberra. It seemed safe enough to drive out to Lake and River Conference Centre and see what I’d stirred up. If David Carmichael or the elusive Bob Mitchell showed up, I might begin to see how this whole mess tied together and understand if what had sent Marina running had got Jenny killed.

I still wasn’t convinced that Jenny’s death was connected to anything – me being first on the scene was just my bad luck, nothing that wouldn’t sort itself out once the police got on the right trail. That was the rational view. But I couldn’t convince myself it was the right view. Eva had, as usual, hit a nerve. I was still obviously unsettled, and somehow feeling quite personally threatened, by Jenny’s death. I was tense as bailing wire and had, unwisely, decided it was time to rattle a few cages. You’d think my recent interviews would have taught me something about going off unprepared.



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