Installment 49: pages 206 - 208 [Elliot, still at Marina's share-house, receives a call from his grandfather.]
I perhaps half knew what was coming as I took the call.
"Pop," I said, "really sorry I haven't called you back or dropped round. It's been an unbelievable week."
"No worries," he laughed. "I was only calling because I finally got to speak to Libby Hughes like you asked. You know people my age, they love talking about family."
"Right," I said, trying to keep the wince out of my voice as I descended the stairs slowly. It had suddenly become painful to move quickly, the jolt of each step reverberation in abdomen sharply. "What did she have to say?"
"Well, she went back to being Libby Hughes, her maiden name, after her second husband died."
"She remarried after Milton Dawes' Dad died?"
"Yeah, she married a man with a big grazing property out towards Lake George. Fancy name, shar-cut or something."
"Charcot?" I asked, thinking of my thick file of company name searches.
"Yeah, that was where Milton went on holidays from boarding school and where the second son Jeremy grew up."
"She had another son?"
"Well, that was why she went back to her maiden name when husband number two turned up his toes. Thought it was fairest all round, didn't look like she was favouring one boy over another."
I knew already, of course, but I needed confirmation.
"Her second husband," I asked, "what was his surname?"
"Ryder. Does that help you any?"
I stopped on the stairs, what he had said hanging on me like a weight. I had the last piece of my puzzle, I should have been elated. I was closer to terrified.
"Thanks Pop, that's really helpful. I'll explain later, but I have to go."
"Well, you said it'd been an odd week. Drop round when you can."
"Shall do Pop," I said, adding on impulse: "Love you."
He muttered something embarrassedly gruff but reciprocal and broke the call. I wondered why I'd felt obliged to speak to him like someone who might not see him again.
But there it was, the simple solution to most of my mystery: the Minister's half-brother was Jeremy Ryder.
If I could work this out, Marina - deeply involved in the people-smuggling and sex-slavery inquiry - could certainly have connected her boss and the ostensibly legitimate brothel owner and pornography trader. Ryder's empire had not sprung up overnight, he'd obviously been successful for a while.
Which might, I thought, partly explain the financially ruined Dawes' sudden move from local to federal politics. His early campaign funds could have built on a loan from his half-brother.
If she'd stumbled on this time-bomb of scandal, not to mention her bosses clear conflict of interests in investigating licensed brothels when his own brother owned at least two, Marina might well have decided to vanish. The Minister leaned on ambitious David Carmichael, hungry for prosecution briefs from the inquiry fallout, to find his daughter. Carmichael hired me.
It fitted, and none of it had to be directly connected to Jenny's death. The only assumption was a fairly safe bet that Marina was a smarter, more thorough lawyer than I was.
But it made one thing blindingly obvious.
I rounded the corner of the stairwell into the lounge-room.
Danielle gave me a concerned look.
"What took you so long?" asked Eva.
"I'll explain once we get going. There'll be time on the way," I said.
"Well," said Danielle hesitantly, "if Trish and Sarah are OK, yeah, there's no reason we can't all talk back at my place."
"No," I said hobbling towards the door. "I know where Marina is. David was right, I knew all along if I'd just thought about it. She's in Jervis Bay, last place we took a holiday together. We can be there inside three hours."
"You know where Marina is?" Eva was incredulous. "And you expect us to drive there? Elliot, if there was ever a time to turn this over to the police and let them get the local cops to go check up on her, this is it."
"Telling the AFP is the last thing we are going to do," I said.
I was expecting to have to argue the point, but the argument I got was from an entirely unexpected quarter.