Authors: Jon Cleary
The Scobie Malone Series
Â© 2002 by Jon Cleary
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form
without permission in writing from the publisher.
First ebook edition 2013 by AudioGO. All Rights Reserved.
Trade ISBN 978-1-62064-815-5
Library ISBN 978-1-62460-142-2
Cover photo Â©
Pride, Wrath, Envy, Lust, Gluttony, Avarice,
Sloth â oh, what a choice!
OLD SINNERS' HYMN
was big; and soul-less as an operating theatre. The walls, furniture and carpets were all white, as if the designer had been a graduate of Antarctica Tech. The paintings on the walls offered splashes of colour, but they were so abstract as to suggest burst blood vessels in the eyes of anyone looking at them. There were computers and phones in every room, including the bathrooms, as if the owner must always be available, even during ablutions or bowel movements. It was post-modern.
Errol Magee had no soul; or if he had, it had never bothered him. He had been educated at a private school where brutality by prefects had been considered part of social education and sodomy looked upon as a minor aberration of sexual education. He had been a brilliant student at school and university, his only blemish as an Australian his total lack of interest in sport. An only child, he had lost his parents during his first year at university. Paid-up Australians both, dismayed by his lack of interest in sport, they had taken up bungee-jumping in the hope of inspiring him into some excitement. Unfortunately, during a double-act in New Zealand, their rope had broken and they had plunged to their death in a splash that was like an explosion of their hopes. Errol had been dismayed by their death and its manner, but after six months he was over his grief and not looking back. That was ten years ago.
Now he was trying on his girlfriend's new Versace dress and jacket. The dark blue silk went with his eyes, which were his most distinctive feature. He was good-looking in an unremarkable way; his looks sort of crept up on an observer. He was short and slim and the outfit, though a little tight, fitted well. Kylie was much the same build as himself, though with more on the upper deck, and he always liked the outfits she bought with his money. He undid his ponytail and let his blond hair fall loose; he looked at himself in the full-length mirror. Not bad, though the dress and jacket would have looked better worn
something else but his black Reeboks. Kylie's shoes were too small for him and, anyway, he always felt awkward in high heels, tottering around like a drunken drag queen.
He was not a drag queen; nor even a drag commoner. He was not gay nor bisexual nor perverted; he just liked dressing up. Which was one reason why he had never liked rugby at school, though today's one-day cricketers, in their fancy pyjamas, would have welcomed him. He had never told Kylie that he liked dressing up in her clothes. Everyone, he had read on the internet, had his or her idiosyncrasies, and this was his.
It had been another bastard of a day, everyone disowning the stuff-ups that had occurred. A year ago the stuff-ups had occurred singly and only occasionally; lately they had come in bunches, haemorrhoids of disaster. For almost three years he had ridden at the top of the rainbow, up there with all the other cyberspace millionaires; then the rainbow had begun to fade and he, like so many of the others, had begun to slide. But, because he had always been less vocal than so many of the others, his slide had been less remarked. He was not a modest man, but his mouth and mind were always connected, with his mind in control.
He had come home, glad to find that Kylie was out at another fashion show. She went to more openings than a battlefield surgeon; he occasionally tagged along, but always avoided the flash of the paparazzi's cameras; he was never there in the miles of smiles in the Sunday papers. He wanted to be alone tonight, to say goodbye to the apartment. His lease ran out in another week and he wasn't going to renew it. Twelve thousand dollars a month had once been chicken-feed; for a week or two, till he got out of the country, he would be living on chicken-burgers. Which was what he had brought home for supper. He had eaten while looking at the ABC news, which was all bad news. He had sat in the ultra-modern kitchen, so sterile-looking that one wondered if food would taint it, and the tears had come as they hadn't since he was six years old when his father had yelled at him for not being able, for Crissake, to catch a bloody cricket ball. The tears were a mixture of self-pity and anger; the world had no right to treat him as it had. He wept for five minutes, then he got up and went into the en suite bathroom and washed his face. When he had come out into the main bedroom he had seen the open cardboard box on the bed, the
dress and jacket draped carelessly out of the box like an invitation. It had been enough.
He looked at himself now in the mirror, pirouetting slowly to let the full skirt flower out. Then he had glided, if one can glide in Reeboks, out of the bedroom into the big unlit living room. He drifted slowly around the room, touching furniture and objects as he had seen Loretta Young and Susan Hayward do in Late Late Movies as they said farewell to their Ole Kentucky Home and a Southern life gone forever. There was nothing ante-bellum in the apartment, though the computers in every room were now reminders of a war that no one had recognized at the time. Every computer had the same bad news of the day, like silent echoes of each other.
The apartment was on an upper floor in the block that was part of the man-made cliff that was East Circular Quay. Down on the harbour the ferries came and went at the wharves without fuss, like wooden governesses. Lights swirled on the dark waters, ghostly fish, and a lone night-bird went like a dark tic across the brilliance of the tall office blocks fronting the Quay. Two hundred yards across the water from Magee's apartment was a cruise ship. On an upper deck, night-glasses to her eyes, was Darlene Briskin. She was not a passenger, not at $160,000 the round trip; she had bluffed her way on board through the delivery hold as a casual waitress for tonight's big reception. Darlene was a planner, like her mother, and had checked on this evening's programme aboard the SS
. She had also helped her mother to plan what was about to happen across the water.
She lowered the glasses, punched numbers on her mobile. Then: “Go! She's alone!”
Errol Magee, in the apartment, did not hear Corey and Phoenix Briskin come in through the back door of the kitchen. Corey had been picking locks since he was twelve years old; the kitchen door was no problem. He and his brother wore ski-masks and surgical gloves; the ski-masks were battle-worn, but the gloves were new equipment. They went through into the living room and Errol Magee, as fey for the moment as Loretta Young in nostalgia, did not hear them as they crossed the thick white carpet. Phoenix came up behind him, wrapped the chloroform pad over his face and after a moment's struggle Errol was a dead weight. Phoenix grabbed him under the arms as he sagged.
“She's got no titsâ”
She's an ex-model,” said Corey. “They don't have tits.”
“Not even when they're retired?”
“Pheeny, for Crissakes, shut up and bag her!”
While Phoenix pulled the big black garbage bag over the victim's head, Corey went round the apartment to the eight computers, including the ones in the bathrooms and the kitchen. On each he deleted everything he saw, then he typed an identical message on each screen. The surgical gloves left no prints on the keys. Their mother had planned that.
He went back into the living room where Errol Magee was now almost totally enveloped in the garbage bag. Phoenix, about to hoist the body over his shoulder, said, “What's she wearing fucking Reeboks for? A model?”
“For Crissake, shut upâWhat's that?”
Juanita Marcos had just come in through the kitchen's back door. She was a Filipina with a flat pretty face and a history of choosing the wrong men. She had come in three times a week to clean the Magee apartment, re-locating the dust and managing not to flood the shower-stalls and the baths. She was paid twenty dollars an hour and didn't think she was overpaid, because this was the only job she had had since arriving from Zamboanga a year ago. And anyway Mr. Magee was loaded; her live-in boyfriend, Vassily Todorov, had told her that and he knew everything about who had the money. Then this morning Miss Doolan, Mr. Magee's girlfriend, the bitch, had given her notice.
“Go back,” Vassily had told her; he was a Bulgarian ex-communist and he knew all about capitalist bastards, “and tell Mr. Magee you want redundancy pay and sick-leave pay. Tell him you want two thousand dollars.”
“What's redundancy pay?” In Zamboanga she had never heard these esoteric terms.
“It's something capitalist bosses have to pay. Go now and tell him what you want or you will go to the Industrial Court.”
So Juanita Marcos came into the kitchen just as Corey Briskin came through from the living room. She saw him in his ski-mask and she opened her mouth to scream. He hit her with the first thing
came to hand, a copper-bottomed saucepan up-ended on the draining board. He was not to know, and she didn't know, that she had an eggshell skull. She was dead before Corey and Phoenix, the latter with the bagged form of Errol Magee over his shoulder, had left the apartment.