I had never been to a brothel before. I drove past the place twice, once in each direction, on Fyshwick’s long, looping streets.
Regardless of the season, Fyshwick is flat and brown. It’s a collection of brick outbuildings, factory wholesale showrooms and hastily assembled warehouses. In a green city, it’s a solid expanse of concrete, bitumen and gravel. It bakes in summer. Its one real hill blocks the view towards the airport, often leaving you with the impression planes are ploughing out of the sky and passing seamlessly into the asphalt. I knew a good discount book wholesaler out here, as well as a couple of furniture and hardware outlets.
On the second pass by Unchaperoned, a distinctly ugly brick building with some kind of corrugated cladding on the upper floors (a sign in neon and stencilling on a street door proclaiming its name), I worked out where the driveway to the discreet rear parking began. On the third pass, I pulled in, tyres masticating the loose gravel as my car joined the ragged line in the lot out back.
What if someone saw me pull in here? I wondered. What if Danielle finds out?
Danielle was still fresh in my thoughts. On my way here from the Lake and River I’d stopped at home to collect something I hoped would help me discover the extent of David Carmichael’s connections with Ryder’s seamier businesses. If Marina had, while working on the sex slavery task-force, found her father was connected to a man running two brothels … well, there was nothing to connect Ryder to the trafficking in women, but I couldn’t see Marina taking it well. And if that connection might exist, there might be some connection between Ryder and Jenny’s death as well.
I fingered what I had placed in my jacket pocket, and thought of the rest of my ten minutes inside the flat. Maybe stopping to clear the answering machine messages was unwise. Pop had called, asked me to call him back. I’d completely forgotten to call him Sunday, and I didn’t want to tell him it had been because I spent most of the day in police custody. I needed to talk with him, and he might have some news about the Minister’s mother – but just for the moment he’d have to take a back seat. I had to get moving if I was going to drop by Unchaperoned on my way to a pub-date with an old-school construction union insider.
Guiltily, I’d only returned the second call, Danielle’s. She’d left a reasonably light-toned message: “Hi Elliot, bit worried about you. Know you’re busy, but call me at the office if you get this before tonight. Be good to hear from you. Bye.” My guess was she’d not called the mobile so as not to interrupt me while out working on the Carmichael job. I’d not been able to reach her at her desk in the communal post-docs office at the English faculty, she was in some meeting.
I wasn’t doing a good job meeting my obligations to others. And while Carmicahel was paying me to find his daughter, here I was sitting in a brothel carpark trying to work out if he was a regular at the establishment. Being here, about to pull my stupidest stunt to date, was beginning to seem a distinctly unimpressive idea. I could just as easily go to the pub early, get a beer and a paper and wait to get the dirt on Carmichael’s other dubious associate, Bob Mitchell.
Still, all I had to do was go inside, show someone what I was carrying and get a reaction, then politely excuse myself and leave. What’s the worst that can happen? I thought, all naïve optimism. One hand was still in my jacket pocket. Two of my damp fingertips were slowly adhering to the photo of David Charmichael, jolly family chef.
I left my car, and mounted a set of rear stairs, leading up to a door marked “reception”. It seemed an unnecessarily long flight of steel stair, snaking back on itself once, giving me a good deal of time to reflect that maybe what I was doing wasn’t that wise. I arrived at the door, and found my hand on it.
“… I am in shit steeped so far.” I muttered, “that it is as easy to go on as o’er.”
I stepped in, and found myself in something that seriously resembled a dentist’s waiting room. White vinyl covered chairs surrounding low, laminex topped tables. Men sitting, shuffling, not looking at each other directly. Three of them: a flannel shirt, a tidy wool jumper and a suit. A television played in the corner: not porn, a sports channel. The only thing wrong was the contents of the table: not ancient mouldering National Geographics, but glossy men’s magazines - not the type with centrefolds. I began to wonder if all waiting rooms were essentially alike.
I breathed out and went up to the receptionist. Her desk also seemed strangely reminiscent of a doctor’s or dentist’s surgery, but lacking a bank of shelves behind her with patient files spine labelled in those little adhesive, coloured letters - Naylor becomes NAY becomes green, orange, red, like traffic lights. No files, but everything else: telephone, appointment book, computer, eftpos terminal all sheltered behind a little ledge. No till was visible, though. It had to be built in under her desk. She looked at me quizically: a perfectly ordinary woman, brown hair in a bob, alert, oval face, neat blue shirt and charcoal jacket. A professional.
“If you wait over there sir, I’ll let you know when the available ladies are ready to meet with you.” When I didn’t move immediately, she added in a patient but firm tone, “When it’s your turn.”