Installment 57: pages 237 - 240 [Elliot tries to engineer an Agatha Christie ending.]
I was thinking of my text message to Detective Cole, but with the phone stuck in my pocket, I had no way of knowing if it had been sent, let alone received. I’d given the address here and added, with all the punctuation I could command: “tell the Minister I’ve found marina carmichael. weve been followed by the man who killed jenny davidson. help.” Davidson. It had been the first time I’d ever used her surname. I hadn’t even known it until the police interview. I hoped it would draw swift assistance, if not from the Federal Police themselves, at least from the local cops.
My aching ribs knew the Slab wasn’t afraid of getting rough, but he didn’t seem to be armed, and a vicious disposition wasn’t going to get him far against a police policy of shooting for the body mass. Still, while in the presence of his substantial and capable mass, these thoughts seemed cold comfort – especially when it wasn’t a police officer that entered.
Ryder’s face was flushed with hot fury, an unpleasant mottled red behind his stubbly ginger beard. His left hand curled and uncurled spasmodically, his simian-long fingers shutting like a trap. For all that, it wasn’t his face or moving hand I was focussed on. It was his right hand, which I now realised I’d never seen up close. It was balled in a hard fist, the knuckles white-bandaged and visibly bruised.
“So, what’s he know?” snarled Ryder to the Slab.
“Nothing much,” said the Slab, easily. “A wasted journey for the most part.”
I pictured a back-handed blow, a woman slumping, catching her head on a hard surface. I looked to the Slab. He hadn’t hit the girl in the motel room, only to be restrained by Ryder and wrestle with him: it had been the other way around.
“Bullshit!” exploded Ryder. “What about his Mr Chough act? What about the Tall Trees business!”
“My mistake,” I said, trying to keep my voice level. “David Carmichael hired me to find his daughter. I got curious. Started poking through his business.”
“I don’t buy it,” said Ryder, prowling to the other side of the table from me.
“You shouldn’t,” I said, flatly. “I know you’re a murderer.”
“Elliot!” shrieked Marina.
Ryder’s face was impassive, but his left hand snapped shut. The Slab just laughed.
“Five minutes ago,” he said, “you were accusing me. You’re fucking mad.”
Ryder’s face was hard and blank. He moved forward towards the coffee table, eyes flicking down. I kicked out at it sharply, and it unhelpfully snagged on the rug. Instead of tripping Ryder, I heroically succeeded in barking his shin and putting the blade in easy reach.
“You little shit,” he said, picking up the large kitchen knife.
Great, I thought. Now when he stabs me to death, he’ll have to hobble over here to do it.
I watched the camembert-smeared blade with a certain detachment. The prospect of being sliced up with an improvised after-dinner implement seemed too absurd to be entirely real.
Unfortunately, I reflected, that nice sharp edge of steel probably doesn’t share my views on this one.
“I think you should come with us, Elliot,” Ryder said.
“Not clever, Jez,” said the Slab, “not clever at all. Give me the knife.”
“Fuck off, Jack,” snapped Ryder, “I’m not your fucking employee. You don’t get to push me around just because you’re older.”
“Thin fucking ice, Jez,” repeated the Slab, “you’re forgetting the only reason you’re on the payroll at all.”
What are they, I thought, married? They’re at each other like bickering siblings.
The full force of my own idiocy hit me. The resemblance wasn’t strong, but it had occurred to me why it shouldn’t be. It all ties up.
It was going to be a shame, though, if a camembert-edged death prevented me from sharing the revelation with anyone. I keep my eyes resolutely on the blade. If the Slab was willing to reign Ryder in, it looked like I was going to have to provoke a crisis.
I tried to muster a confident smile, I suspect given the mounting pain below my ribs it was more of a grimace.
“No Jack it wasn’t you who killed Jenny,” I said. I noted the Slab wince at the mention of his first name. “It was Jez who killed Sarah’s girfriend.”
Ryder’s hand tightened on the knife-handle. Danielle squeezed my thigh, her message simple: Please stop. It didn’t seem an option. Nor did waiting for the cavalry.
“You don’t like it when women stand up to you, do you Jez? You definitely don’t like people hanging round your girls. Followed her home to give her a scare, right? Must’ve seemed a gift, the way that front door locks so badly.”
“Shut the fuck up, Naylor,” growled Ryder. His hand was trembling.
“Stop, Elliot,” whispered Danielle, watching his face.
I spoke up louder: “You wanted to give her a scare. When someone knocked on her door, she thought it was a neighbour – you pushed on in, and then pushed her around.”
Ryder took a half-step towards me, but the Slab’s hand fell across his forearm. Ryder shrugged it off, it had been intended as a warning not a restraint, but it checked his advance for a moment. I now had Jack the Slab for my audience as well and he clearly wanted to hear what I had on Ryder, which suited me fine.
“Backed her into a corner in her bathroom and then gave her a backhand. Slippery places bathrooms. She fell into the tub, smashed her head against something badly enough to kill her. You hit her. She died. It’s enough to put you away for murder.”
Now the Slab’s hand did have to fall on Ryder’s wrist as a restraint: Ryder shot the bigger man a look of furious venom and turned his gaze back on me.
“I think you should stop there, Elliot,” said the big man, in his soft, surprising voice.
“You can’t prove a thing,” hissed Ryder.
“You’re an idiot Ryder, stupid enough to grab her throat at one point. They can recover fingerprints from tissue-damage under the skin. Quite a reliable science now. But I’d be far more worried about the shit you’ve now put the deals your babysitting for big brother in now, don’t you think?”
That was enough, he snapped. Shame about my timing, though.