The lock on the wood-panelled door of apartment 3B opened silently with the bronze master key on MacFife’s key ring. We entered, closed the door quietly and walked softly through to the main room. Glaze was dozing on a divan in front of a large window with a view up the coast to Fraser Island. Each breath was accompanied by a slight whimper, and a trickle of saliva ran from the corner of his mouth. Despite a thick shirt and tracksuit trousers he was shivering, and pain-lines creased a face that looked much sicker than it should have, considering it was over six days since Jon had blown a hole through his shoulder. Obviously, whatever treatment he was receiving for his wound wasn’t working. A handgun lay on a low table within easy reach. Jon pocketed the weapon and I tapped Bob where it would hurt.
His shriek was gratifying. ‘What’re you doing here?’
‘We were worried about you.’
‘What do you want?’
‘To help you escape.’
‘MacFife wants you dead.’
‘He’s seen the tapes and knows you double-crossed him.’
‘Where is he?’
‘I’ve no idea.’
‘Then how do you know what he thinks?’
‘How’d you find me?’
‘Rang the gallery and asked. Marie-Louise is such a helpful young woman. Who else lives here?’
Jon placed a thumb over the wounded shoulder. ‘Answer the nice young man.’
‘His girls. They’ve all got separate units, so it’s not a brothel.’
‘Where’s my car?’
‘In the basement car park.’
He nodded towards the kitchen. We left him and made a quick tour of the unit, gun at the ready, not that either of us had a clue how to use it. The keys were on the bench. Jon was looking at the pistol.
‘I reckon this is the twin of the one that nicked you. Let’s disable it before someone else gets hurt.’
In a drawer under the sink bench he found a set of round-handled wooden spoons. Snapping off a handle with a diameter slightly larger than the gun barrel, he tapered one end, removed the silencer, shoved the handle into the barrel and tapped it against the floor to ram it home. After snapping off the excess, he replaced the silencer. ‘That’ll give someone a fright.’
We left the weapon on the dining room table and returned to our host.
‘Where does MacFife live?’
Jon’s thumb pressed down.
Glaze screamed and sweat ran. ‘He’s got a place up the hill.’
‘Lead the way.’
He staggered to his feet, turned pale green and sagged back onto the divan. I put his shoes on while Jon fetched a jacket, and we supported him between us as we slowly walked a couple of hundred metres further up the hill to a high, white-stuccoed wall. To confuse curious neighbours I pressed the buzzer and pretended to speak into the security microphone while slipping the nickel-plated key from MacFife’s ring into the lock of the heavy wooden door.
Terracotta paving led through a low-maintenance garden of native plants to the front door of a two-storeyed concrete box stuccoed to match the enclosing walls. The path continued around the house to a star-shaped swimming pool, a Jacuzzi and a pergola with an even better north-facing view than the one from Glaze’s apartment. The same key gave entry to the back door. A smaller, iridescent blue key disconnected the alarm.
The lounge, which occupied the entire rear of the house, was blessed with six-metre high windows offering a view across Laguna Bay. Impossible to heat in winter and a hot-house in summer. Bright yellow walls bore two ridiculously large, psychedelic abstractions. Scattered, brightly patterned rugs supported gleaming chrome and leather armchairs and matching coffee tables. Kitchen and dining areas continued the extravagance. A chrome-plated staircase with transparent steps, probably made from the same stuff as Max’s dome, led to a mezzanine gallery containing doors to three bedrooms and bathrooms all designed to impress. Despite myself, I was impressed.
Jon’s face crinkled into a question. ‘Why would anyone live in a warehouse like this? With all his money, why didn’t he build something like your place? The man’s mad.’
If I had ever wondered what I saw in the guy, I wondered no more. ‘I suppose everyone tells you you’ve excellent taste?’
He was genuinely perplexed. ‘No. I want my home to be cosy. This is as bad as the tent place.’ He shook his head and turned to a sweating, mumbling, yellow-tinged Glaze. ‘What’s the matter?’
‘If MacFife finds us here he’ll kill us.’
‘Where’s the safe?’
‘In his office, but I don’t know the combination – I swear I don’t.’
The office adjoined the second bedroom. On Glaze’s instructions we rolled back the leather armchair and lifted the carpet to expose a circular metal lid about forty centimetres in diameter, containing a digital combination lock. I checked the desk drawers, cupboards, bookshelf - nothing useful. Jon flicked through MacFife’s wallet and spread the contents over the floor.
‘I went through this yesterday and noticed something that made no sense, but now I wonder. What d’you reckon?’ He opened the wallet wide and placed it beside the collection of cards and cash.
‘Can’t see anything.’
I picked it up and couldn’t resist stroking the soft, hand-tooled leather, embossed with tiny gold fleur-de-lis. Inside was the conventional layout, a zipped pocket for notes, another open pocket, and two smaller pockets each side of the fold for credit cards. Jon pointed to a spot, and then I realised what he meant. Small dots had been marked with ballpoint on the edges of all six pockets. Seven on the zip pocket, one on the next, three on the outer left, eight on the inner left, five on the inner right and two on the outer right pocket. I punched seven, one, three, eight, five, and two, on the combination.
‘That’s not it.’
‘Write the numbers down in the same order as you tried first, that’s the most logical.’
I did, and stared at them without any blinding light of comprehension. It was Glaze who suggested it might be the numerical equivalent of the first letters of each number S, the first letter of seven, is the nineteenth letter of the alphabet, so nineteen, O is the fifteenth giving us fifteen, then twenty, five, six, and another twenty. That made ten numbers. No response from the lock.
‘Does MacFife have his fortune told?’ Jon asked.
Glaze’s mouth dropped open. ‘How’d you know? He goes to a tarot woman once a month.’
‘It figures. Overconfident bastards like him usually imagine they’ve got the protection of supernatural forces. He’s probably used cabbalistic numbers.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Add numbers greater than nine together until you get a single digit. Take the first number. Nineteen. One and nine makes ten, one plus zero is one, so the combination’s, one, six, two, five, six, two. Try it.’
I did, and nothing happened.
‘It’s probably his pin number and nothing to do with this thing.’ Jon looked deflated. ‘Anyone got a stick of dynamite? A pneumatic drill?’
I kept staring at our calculations. The idea of letters as numbers seemed right; but what letters? Then it struck me. ‘What’s your code with MacFife?’ I snapped at Glaze.
He stared blankly.
‘When you phone him, what do you say?’
‘Oh that. How’s your mother.’
‘And he answers?’
‘Yeah, I thought so. Let’s take a look at mother. M’s thirteen, O’s fifteen, T’s twenty, H is eight, E’s five and R’s eighteen. Convert to single digits and what do we have?’
‘Four, Six, two, eight, five, nine. Here, let me.’ Jon squatted over the lock and pressed the numbers. ‘Bingo!’ The lid opened easily. Inside was a wire mesh cylinder jammed with what looked like school exercise books. He dumped the contents on the floor. Under the books, a wad of used hundred-dollar notes, passport, and eleven small packets of white powder. Cocaine, according to Glaze.
He wanted to snort a line, reckoned he needed it. Perhaps he did but he wasn’t getting any. His promises that we’d discover heaven if we joined him, had as little effect on Jon as on me. I’ve a horror of drugs, all drugs. I need to be fully in control of my wits at all times. I don’t even like drinking a beer if strangers are present.
Ignoring Glaze’s whimpers we flicked through the eighteen soft-covered ledger books, the sort you can buy at any stationers. Notes, letters, newspaper clippings and memos were stapled to a few pages, but mostly it was simply neat, double entry accounting with occasional hand-written notes. It meant nothing to us, so I shoved everything in my pack, replaced the empty cylinder, closed the safe and put back carpet and chair.
Glaze was slumped against the desk, eyes closed, saliva trickling from the corner of his mouth. We slipped his shirt from his shoulder and took off the blood-soaked bandage. I nearly chundered. Just below the collarbone, a dark purple hole, ragged at the edges, was leaking pus. I turned him over. The exit hole was in similar condition but larger and weeping blood. All the surrounding tissue was aflame and swollen.
‘Had any treatment?’
‘The boss said he’d get someone, but no one’s come yet.’
‘What’ve you put on it?’
‘I’ve bathed it in hot salty water. There’s nothing else and I can’t go out because the cops are looking for me.’
‘Because I shot Ian and escaped from hospital.’
‘How’d you manage that?’
‘When MacFife took off he waited a couple of blocks away, then followed you to the hospital. It was so busy in Emergency no one noticed him take me out.’
‘You’re gullible, Glaze.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Your charming boss wasn’t hanging around to rescue you, he wanted to make sure you were dead. You weren’t, so he brought you here. He has no more intention of repairing your shoulder than he has of making you his heir.’
‘And when you die, he’ll dump you beside the river.’
‘That’d be murder. Gregor keeps his hands clean’
‘You escaped from hospital alone, and died alone while hiding from the law. I’ll bet he’s told the cops he doesn’t know where you are.’
‘Yeah. He rang from here. I thought he was doing it to protect me.’
‘Poor old Bob.’
‘What’s going to happen to me?’
‘You’re going to die.
‘I know. I can feel it.’ He was crying.
‘What’s your life worth?’
‘Anything – I’ll do anything to stop the pain and get back at that bastard.’
‘A proper confession?’
‘You’ve already got one.’
‘In front of the cops.’
That stopped him. He grew paler, if that was possible. Jon placed his hand at the edge of the swelling and squeezed lightly.
Glaze screamed, then whimpered, ‘Anything! Just stop the pain!’
It was nine-thirty. I called Matthew. He was cagey. When he’d told his wife about the shoot-out, she’d told him to have nothing more to do with us. However, he didn’t hang up so I explained we’d be going to a police station this time, and offered him thrice his usual hourly rate. He hesitated, as would any sensible young man with a mortgage, three kids under five, a ridiculously expensive car, and a non-working wife.
‘OK,’ he muttered nervously, ‘I’ll make the appointment and call you back… but I wouldn’t do it for anyone else.’
I told him I loved him and blew a kiss down the line.
Jon had carried Glaze downstairs. ‘He weighs nothing. I reckon he’s done for.’
The phone rang. Matthew had arranged for the police to interview Glaze at eleven o’clock, so we had to get our skates on! Lugging a half-dead body out the gate and hoisting him into the back of the ute might have raised a few local eyebrows, so I changed into a pair of MacFife’s trousers and a blazer, wandered down the hill to Glaze’s place, drove the ute back to the car park and swapped it for the Porsche, which carried me rather more firmly than I’d expected, back to MacFife’s villa.
The remote door-control in the glove box opened the garage doors. Glaze was comfortable enough in the front, but it was a bit of a squeeze for Jon in the back. I dropped him in town to wait for Matthew, then drove till I found a chemist’s for painkillers, disinfectant and dressings.
Glaze’s voice was faint. ‘Am I going to die?’
‘Of course! We all are. Now, be brave.’
He swallowed three tablets and was brave while I disinfected his wounds, scraped away rot and applied a dressing.
Jon and Matthew were composing Glaze’s confession when I pulled up. Glaze took Jon’s place beside Matthew, Jon and I squeezed in the back.
‘How long have we got?’
‘Will Glaze speak?’
‘No. I’ll read it to them, they’ll type it out, ask Glaze if he agrees, he’ll sign it, and that’s it. ‘ He passed the statement across. ‘Have we left anything out?’
It was beautifully simple. After declaring he had been abducted by MacFife from hospital, held prisoner and denied medical treatment, Glaze admitted to being present on the roof of the gallery when, acting on MacFife’s instructions, Scumble had pushed Max to his death. He also expressed regret at not stopping Scumble from snapping Frances’s neck and throwing her down the stairs – again on MacFife’s instructions. Concerning his own injuries and the death of Scumble, he stated that MacFife had had an argument with Scumble, who drew his gun. Glaze stepped in front of MacFife, copping the bullet in his shoulder, but managed to drop Scumble - in self-defence.
There was no mention of CC, Patrick, Jon or me. Patrick wouldn’t want his adventure known, and if anyone asked questions about CC, the cops could mount their own investigation. All we wanted was to prove our innocence of Frances’ murder. This would do it. The police didn’t want us on any other counts - we hoped.
Matthew grinned proudly and Jon produced takeaway sandwiches and coffees. Glaze managed a few mouthfuls. Sweat was dripping from him as Matthew helped him from the car and across the road to the Police Station. After what seemed like years, but was about three-quarters of an hour, Matthew came out, got into his car and drove away. We caught up with him at the old show-grounds.
The cops had been totally professional, ready with tape recorder and video in an interview room. Matthew had read out the statement and, while it was being typed, arrangements were made for hospitalisation. As soon as the statements were ready Glaze had signed them and was whisked away.
‘They asked how I’d become involved, and Glaze mumbled something about being sick of running away, and using the yellow pages to find a JP. Then they asked him where MacFife was.’
‘He had no idea.’
‘Excellent. Do you think they believed him?’
‘No idea. You know the cops. Never give anything away. With those faces they should all be poker champs.’
I handed Matthew ten of MacFife’s hundred-dollar notes, and the eighteen ledger books. ‘For your next thousand dollars, see if you can make sense of these. They were locked in his safe. We’re looking for proof of illegal activities, drug dealing, prostitution rackets – that sort of thing. We must have it sorted before letting him go.’
Mathew grinned. ‘I’ll start immediately.’
‘And when will you know if they’re any use?’
‘I’ll ring you.’ He waved and drove away.
Anticlimax. We were almost there. All we had to do now was make sure MacFife wasn’t in a position to convince the cops that Glaze had been lying. That depended on Matthew and the ledgers. There was nothing to do but wait, and I’ve never been good at that. As long as I’m doing something – anything, I can function. But waiting, depending on someone else – I’m always sure they don’t care enough to do their best. Half the things I buy have something missing, fall to bits, or don’t work. I twice used tradesmen when building my cottage. The bloke who poured the concrete slab put the shower next to the bed and forgot to put in drains for the sink. The electrician forgot to earth the place. I was lucky the inspector checked. And how about the planet? As that funny guy said on TV the other night, if Earth was a rental property we’d never get our bond back.
It was too early to go back to the old house, but even if it wasn’t, I couldn’t bear the sight of MacFife. We’d dumped his soiled clothes, so we had to get replacements for when we let him loose, and as Jon pointed out, if his car was seen driving into his garage and the lights came on at night, he’d have a tough time convincing anyone he’d been held prisoner. I looked nothing like him, but the car windows were tinted and I wore his driving cap that I'd found on the back seat. With Jon concealed under the dash, I drove noisily up to his house, the way he used to arrive to pick up Frances, lifted a polite finger to an elderly man who nodded vaguely at the car, opened the garage doors and drove in, gunning the engine before killing it.
I appreciated the house more the second time round. The pool was deep and clear, the spa hot, and the view across Laguna Bay and up the Cooloola coast, stunning. We stripped and soaked in the spa, moaning at the luxury of slow immersion into hot water. It was the first time I’d relaxed for what seemed like a lifetime. After a dip in the cold pool we warmed ourselves again in the spa before letting ourselves into the house.
The interior, although as hugely ostentatious as before, began to suggest ways in which it could be rendered less impersonal. We trailed water up the stairs in search of towels, then, warm and dry, checked out MacFife’s boudoir. His bed was unmade and smelled unclean, so we settled for the equally comfortable guestroom and relieved all the tensions the spa hadn’t reached. Afterwards, for the first time since the nightmare began, we speculated seriously about our future. It became dark. We turned on plenty of lights, made ourselves a snack from the pathetic contents of the kitchen, selected a change of clothes from our host’s elegant wardrobe, and reluctantly prepared to leave.
‘Imagine living here alone. It’d be bloody depressing.
‘He must have friends who ring him - and visit.’
‘You’re a genius.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Check the answering machine.’
There were three messages from a pleasant-sounding woman who called herself Ishbel, asking Gregor to telephone. She sounded worried by the third call, made that afternoon. Half a dozen other people had called, but none had left messages.
‘It’s not all over,’ Jon muttered, ‘the cops’ll want to see us.’
‘We’ll have to go to court.’
‘We’ll need a lawyer.’
‘Unless they drop the charges.’
‘How long since you rang Hank and Celia?’
‘A couple of days.’
‘Give them a ring.’
Celia answered. Hank was out. They were happy, bored and ready to return. Her squeal of delight at our progress was gratifying. ‘You might need a lawyer. If so, Hank wants to act for you until it gets difficult, then he’ll appoint someone top notch. Our shout.’
‘What can I say?’
‘You can say yes. And now things are practically settled we’ll come home. Call the minute you need us.’
‘Oh dear. Am I sounding officious?’
‘You, Celia? Heaven forbid.’
Loaded with soap, towels, blankets and replacement clothes for our prisoner, we drove down the hill to Glaze’s apartment. Jon waited until I appeared in the Mercedes, and I trailed him back to the car park, where he swapped the Porsche for the ute. I parked and deadlocked my precious wagon on a lighted street several blocks from the old house, then, as there was no moon, walked ahead to guide Jon as he backed the hundred metres without lights up to the house. Inside it was so quiet I was sure MacFife had escaped. I turned on the light. Blue with cold, our prisoner huddled, whimpering in the middle of the cage. I opened the flap and pushed in a bucket of water, a couple of hamburgers and a plastic cup of coffee. He didn’t move.
‘Come on, Gregor. Supper time.’
Still no movement.
‘He’s not dead – he’s shivering.’
‘Stroke? Heart attack?’
‘I’m going in. Hold the flap for me.’
‘Jon squatted beside the shivering bundle of flesh, held the coffee under his nose and said, with more sympathy that I’d have managed, ‘Come on, drink this. It'll do you good.’
With a howl, MacFife flung the coffee in Jon’s face, leaped to his feet, grasped his persecutor round the throat and thrust him against the cage. I saw the spark leap across to Jon’s bare arm before I could throw the switch. MacFife leaped into the air with a howl of anguish, hair, arms, legs rigid with shock, before collapsing in a heap. A faint smell of burning on the air.
I raced into the cage. Jon was massaging his neck and breathing raggedly. I felt for MacFife’s pulse. Faint. Turned him over. Not breathing. Diaphragm in spasm. I thumped him on the chest, more from anger than hope it would do any good, then shoved my mouth over his and blew. Jon fetched a couple of blankets to wrap around him, then massaged his arms and legs to boost the circulation. It didn’t take long. A minute at the most before he was gulping air and crying about pain in his foot. A blackened patch under the ball of his left foot was going to hurt for a while. I hoped it would hurt as much as the cut on my ankle.
Jon’s neck looked unpleasant, bruising around three nail punctures oozing droplets of blood. I splashed disinfectant. A reddening spot on his arm showed where the spark had jumped. It was lucky the fuse at the roadside hadn’t blown. The escape bid had exhausted MacFife’s reserves and he lay onto the floor, sobbing.
He’d only been captive two days and one night, and had had sufficient water and a little food. He was just another pathetic wanker hiding behind a loud mouth. Like a frightened rat, he drank, devoured a hamburger, threw it up again over the floor, drank my coffee, and kept the second hamburger down where it would do some good. After licking the last crumbs from his lips he asked almost politely, ‘Did you find Glaze?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Nice girls. How’re you managing them without CC?’
‘They’re nothing to do with me!’
‘She asked after you.’
‘A good-looking chick bidding fond farewell to an old bloke. She was suspicious, so I told her you’d sent us to look over the empty flat. She asked if it was true that the old baggage was dead. I told her I was CC’s replacement.’
He was silent for a full minute, digesting the indigestible, then asked quietly, ‘What did you mean when you said, sort of.’
‘Sort of what?’
‘You sort of found Glaze.’
‘Oh that. The place stunk as badly as this after you’d shat yourself yesterday. The stupid bugger had slit his wrists. Blood everywhere. You’ll have to get a new carpet. We felt a bit disappointed at missing out on sweet revenge, but that’s life.’
‘And death,’ added Jon morosely.
‘Did you tell anyone?’
‘About the dead body?’ MacFife was sweating visibly.
‘Should we have?’
‘There’s no need to shout. Of course we didn’t tell anyone. We’re wanted for Frances murder, remember? With our luck they’d pin Glaze’s suicide on us as well if we told them. No. That’s your little problem old man.’
‘Are you still…’
‘Letting me go?’
‘Don’t know. You see, we reckon it was your fault he topped himself. We looked at his shoulder and it was fucking disgusting. The bugger was rotting away. You didn’t look after your mate very well, did you?’
‘He wasn’t my mate.’
‘No. I doubt you’ve got any. But you can see that this changes things a bit. The cops might think it’s a bit too convenient if we lay the blame for Frances’s murder on a dead man. We’ll sleep on it and let you know tomorrow. By the way, Ishbel rang. I answered the phone and told her you were in an awkward position and unavailable. When she asked who I was, I said I was your lover. She hung up on me.’
It was nine o’clock. Neither of us felt like spending another night there, so we emptied the house of all evidence of our stay, leaving nothing except MacFife in his cage and his clothes in the kitchen. Tomorrow we’d sweep, clean and check again for anything incriminating. We removed his blanket, threw another bucket of water over the floor to ensure its continuing conductivity, turned out the light and left. Jon poked his head back through the doorway.
‘By the way, better not dance around, the cage is only loosely stapled to the ceiling and if it falls you’ll be grilled and it’ll take weeks to get the stink out of the place. G’night.’
By the time we’d packed gear in both the ute and Mercedes, there wasn’t enough room to sleep, so we drove to the parking building, clambered into the Porsche, and ten minutes later strutted in to the reception area of an up-market motel. Jon slung his arm around my neck while I, pretending a sore throat and wearing MacFife’s cap and sunglasses, signed in under his name. I insisted on paying in advance, in case we decided to leave early, added fifty dollars to cover anything we might take from the fridge, told the young man he could keep any change, and offered MacFife’s passport, open at his name, as proof of identity.
He took a quick look, closed it and handed it back. ‘Identification’s not necessary, Mr MacFife. I hope you both have a very pleasant evening.’ His conspiratorial smile included Jon, who winked lewdly.
‘We will,’ I grunted, tipping him another fifty bucks.
And it was a pleasant evening, after which we slept the sleep only granted to pure and innocent souls.