Installment 45: pages 188 - 192 [Elliot inspects a vandalised apartment, surives two interviews, recaps the story so far and encounters a potential revelation.]
Danielle had parked right behind the marked AFP car. I didn’t relish the idea of riding in one again quite so soon. Danielle led me, more or less sleepwalking, into the units’ courtyard and up the stairs. Eva was entertaining a sturdy pair of officers in AFP-issue black leather jackets, one of whom lead me through to the neighboring flat. There was splintered wood in the frame and door where the lock met with the jamb.
“Simple job,” said the officer opening the door. “Sort of thing anyone with a decent hammer and chisel could manage. If they know how. Two good blows and you’re in.”
“Well,” I said, “even if I knew how, we don’t have a chisel.”
“You won’t mind us checking your car then, sir.”
“It’s in Civic, but you’re welcome to go look,” I said, producing the keys and reciting the license plate number. The officer did not look impressed. I suspected my tone wasn’t appropriately diplomatic, but I was distracted.
I was looking at the flat.
To be fair, “trashed” was too strong a word for the actual damage done. There were four holes at varying heights in one lounge room wall. The door to the main bedroom was punctured by a large boot-mark. Some doors had been ripped from a cupboard in the kitchen, a few tiles shattered.
It was the noisy work of five or ten minutes, most of it done with a hammer or mallet and a lot of frustrated violence.
“Your wallet, sir, was found there,” said the officer, indicating a corner of the lounge room near the holes in the wall. “Perhaps you’d like to come back into your flat for a chat.”
Dealing with most of the officers’ questions proved easier than expected. My somnambulism and gravel-induced shaving rash didn’t help, but a call to the Phoenix secured Dave Pritchard’s testimony as to the time I’d been there, which put me in the clear for the time the neighbor’s call reporting a disturbance was logged.
“And the flat numbers being switched over, sir?”
“Like Eva said, probably a prank by some of the local kids.”
“And your wallet?”
“I lost it earlier today. Maybe a good Samaritan dropped round with it and tossed it through the door.”
“In the time between your neighbor calling and your flat-mate returning home?”
I shrugged. They were clearly suspicious, given my appearance and the materialization of my wallet at the scene of criminal damage, but with Dave Pritchard to vouch for me there wasn’t much to be done. The officers departed. I wondered if they, or the plainclothes types who’d interviewed me the previous day, would be back once a little basic cross-checking on this incident turned me up as a suspect in a murder inquiry.
I was now alone in my flat with two women whose questions were going to take a lot more answering. I collapsed in the green armchair.
“What’s going on here, Elliot?” asked Danielle. She crossed her arms, head tilted, delightful azure eyes narrowed in what I took as an opening bid of concern, with an option on outright suspicion. I could have watched the flow of her curling hair over the curve of her shoulder all evening, but for that shadow in her stare.
I was drifting again, and needed to focus.
“Eva,” I said. “I could really use some Panadeine Forte if you have it.”
Eva arched an eyebrow and returned with the caplets and a glass of water, then returned to sit quietly with Danielle on the couch. Nightmare scenario: girlfriend and female best friend giving you the silent stare, sitting side by side.
I breathed deeply. The pain in my side made me wince, and to cover the grimace I started talking.
“Alright. Danielle, I’d told you I was trying to find Marina Carmichael, for her father David.”
“David wants to know where she’s gone. It was worrying enough before … before I found Jenny. Jenny and Marina worked together in the Milton Dawes’ office as advisors, and on the sex-slavery task force. It’s bad news for everyone, especially the Minister, that one of his staffers is dead and another is still missing. I’ve checked the obvious places to no avail, so I thought what I needed to know why Marina left. Turns out David and his wife, Daphne, have had disagreements in the past over where he puts his money – specifically him investing in things run by Bob Mitchell. Mitchell used to be a bad boy in the unions before they got sick of him and then he ran something of a scaffolding industry scam in Sydney. Now he’s a property developer. David has money in one of his projects, the Tall Trees estate development, along with a man called Jeremy Ryder. Ryder worries me. I visited him this morning, pretending to be a planning officer. He says he gets his money from stock-market trading, but it doesn’t take a lot of digging to work out he owns some adult stores in Fyshwick and makes some of the movies they sell. He also owns two brothels, the least classy of which closed down just before the Minister’s task force conducted those raids that found the trafficked workers. I got worked over by an employee of Ryder’s this afternoon outside one of them. I think I’ve seen the same guy rough up one of Ryder’s … employees. I think he took my wallet – and that’s why what happened next door happened. It’s a warning.”
The silence was a palpable, breathing thing. I continued.
“Checking out Ryder too closely was stupid. Lying to him was even more stupid. He’s the one protecting Mitchell’s investment in Tall Trees, so he’s a capable fixer. But I can’t help thinking he might be involved in …in Jenny’s death. It’s not something I can explain in a way that makes sense, but if he’s used to trying to scare people off, and his muscle isn’t afraid to slap women around … but it would be such a stupid way to try and get at the Minister, such an obvious way to draw the full force of the AFP crashing down on you. I’m still hoping Marina’s vanishing act isn’t related to the task force. I got from David that there’s something wrong with the Tall Trees development, at the very least the environmental impact statement is dodgy, some risk of on-site sewerage treatment overflowing into the Molonglo river system in heavy rain. But he’s holding more back, I’m sure he is. I also think he’s lost important documents, or they’ve been taken. My best bet is Marina realized her Dad is a bit of a crook, found the environmental impact statement and everything else that’s missing, made off with the documents and is making him sweat while she thinks it over. The problem is why she wouldn’t have called in and let the Minister know she needed more time off. He seems to like her, told me to tell her she still had her job.”
“You’ve spoken to Milton Dawes?” asked Eva, incredulous.
“He called me in for a quiet chat late last night.”
It suddenly seemed as though it had been a very long day.
Danielle spoke next.
“And there’s nothing to connect Ryder and the Minister’s office?” she asked. “Nothing that might connect him with Marina or Jenny?”
“Why would there be?” I asked.
“Well, doesn’t it seem a bit lucky that he closed a brothel just before the raids?”
I’m fairly confident that I maintained all the muscular rigor of a sock puppet. My jaw made a determined bid for freedom, plunging towards the floor, tethered only by anatomical necessity. It didn’t make sense. But it did. I’d said it myself. I couldn’t help thinking Ryder might be involved in Jenny’s death. That would have to mean some kind of leak from the Minister’s office. But what?