‘That’s not a very bright thing to say,’ she said.
After that there didn’t seem to be much point in being coy about my enquiry. I told her about the hire car racket and the photograph of Mountain signing out the Audi. She smoked, listened and drank her cold coffee. She didn’t know that Mountain had cut his beard. I showed her the clippings in the bathroom.
I stood outside the bathroom and watched her look at herself in the mirror and swish at her fringe. She couldn’t see much more than that of her head in the mirror.
‘Unless he’s got a twin brother who’s knocked himself about in the same way.’
She shook her head. ‘The silly bastard.’
‘That’s right, he’s going the right way to get experience. He’ll get some courtroom experience and be able to write some good, graphic stuff about life in Long Bay.’
She pushed past me and got back to the kitchen and her cigarettes. ‘You’ve got no idea where he’d take the car?’ she said gloomily. ‘He didn’t have to say?’
‘No. Did he talk to you about this book? I mean, did he give you any idea of what it was about? Where it’s… set? Would he have made a plan?’
She jumped up from the table. ‘He might have. He made plans for some things.’ I followed her out of the kitchen into the workroom. She leafed through and shuffled the papers that were on the desk, those that were lying on top of a drawer that had been pulled out like a tray and all the ones that had fallen on the floor. After a while she looked up at me through the fringe.
‘All TV stuff.’
I nodded and poked around the room. The bookcases lining the walls were crammed full, with the spaces above the upright books occupied by others lying flat. The desk was set to face a wall rather than a window and books stood upright with their spines facing outward along the whole of its length. I glanced idly along the row, noting a few familiar titles, a thesaurus, dictionaries, a dictionary of quotations, histories and biographies. My eye stopped at a clutch of six paperbacks. Unlike the other books on the desk which were thumbed and battered, these were brand new. I pulled them out.
‘What does he read mostly-fiction?’
She was sitting on a swivel chair that was mounted on runners. She stretched out her leg and pushed off from the desk so that the chair ran back a few feet. The white ski overall was the perfect garment for her; she looked small and tough and smart and ready to be a lot of fun if the right opportunity presented. She’d run out of cigarettes so she stuck her hands inside the bib of the overall, presumably to keep from chewing the nails or doing something worse.
‘Fiction? No, not that much. Sometimes, but more biographies, plays
I held out the paperbacks and let her read the authors’ names and the titles. She shook her head. ‘What?’
‘Mysteries,’ I said, ‘detectives. Look-Michael Lewin, Sjowall and Wahloo, Maigret, for Chrissake.’
‘It’s bad enough if he decides to get some first hand experience of crime but this stuff makes it look as if he’s interested in solving the bloody crimes. Justice and all that.’
I put the books down on the desk; their shiny newness was marred by rough turning down of the corners of a couple of pages at a time. Each book had three or four of these corner folds which suggested that Mountain had consumed the books in a couple of gulps. Twenty-five dollars’ worth of dangerous dreams.
‘Undercover?’ Erica Fong said.
‘He couldn’t be that dumb.’
She nodded her head vigorously and withdrew her hands from the bib. Her fists were clenched tight. ‘He could be. Yes he could! God, I need a cigarette.’
The idea that Mountain might have gone out playing Lone Ranger was the first bright thought I’d had since meeting Erica Fong, and it didn’t do either of us any good. I’d told her enough about the car racket, the false papers and disguises and so on, to give her the tip that it was an organised business. You don’t have to live very long in Sydney to become aware that organised criminality is something to stay away from. The Harbour is too conveniently close.
Erica rooted through Mountain’s papers again and found a half packet of his Gitanes. While she was coughing her way into the first cigarette and I was wishing there was something else to drink in the place besides black instant and Suntory whisky, I had my second bright idea. Mountain must have got on to the strength of the car-stealing team through someone else, perhaps one of the people in my picture gallery. I described a couple of the faces to Erica from memory, but I didn’t do it very well.
‘I’d have to see them,’ she said, ‘and even then I don’t know. He knows a lot of people I don’t. He met a lot in pubs, people like you.’
I took that as a sign that she’d had enough of my company for the night.
‘I’ve got the pictures in my office. Would you come in tomorrow morning and take a look?’
We left it there. She let me out through the front door and I handed her the shotgun shells and one of my cards as I left.
She rolled up to the office at around ten the next morning. She was wearing designer jeans and a scoop-neck black knitted top that had cost money. So had the bag she dropped carelessly on the floor as she sat in my client chair. Out came the cigarettes and her impassive look gave way to one of impatience.
I hadn’t liked the job much at first and it wasn’t getting any better. I wasn’t in the mood for impatient young women. I took the envelope out of my desk slowly, tapped it on the scarred surface and looked owlishly over at her.
‘Do you mind telling me what you do for a living, Miss Fong?’
She sighed and puffed irritably. Then she smiled. ‘At least you got the name right. On second meeting people usually call me Wong.’
‘Can’t understand it.’
‘I don’t do anything much. My Dad’s got an import business, Hong Kong and China. I go on the odd trip for him and do a bit of decorating in the shops.’
I nodded and slid the photos out onto the desk. She butted her cigarette and pulled her chair up close.
‘I’d like to see Bill first, please.’
I spread the pictures out with Mountain in the middle and moved away to give her a bit more of the dim light my dirty windows afford.
I watched her face as she picked up the photo of Mountain. She studied it closely and nodded. She gave a tight smile, brushed back her fringe and tapped the picture with the fingers of her right hand. Her fingernails were cut short and unpainted and her touch was light. I felt a twinge of envy for Bill Mountain.
‘He looks good with the beard cut, doesn’t he?’
‘Yeah. Take a look at the others.’
She put Mountain’s picture down and turned her attention to the others.
‘Take your time.’
She lit a cigarette and I lifted the window a discreet inch. She held up the picture of Henry Majors. I said to take your time.’
Her puff of smoke drifted across the surface of the photograph. ‘I don’t need to take my time. I know this guy and Bill knows him too. He didn’t always have the moustache but I couldn’t mistake those eyes.’
Majors’ eyes were small and close-set, giving him a slightly lizardy look. His moustache was unconvincing to a sceptical eye, but probably no more than real moustaches. Erica had selected a photo in which Majors was caught looking up from the registration form on which he had been writing. A pair of tinted spectacles was sitting on the desk beside his writing hand. In the other photograph he had the glasses firmly in place and the lizardy look was gone.
‘What’s his name?’
‘I’m trying to think.’ For that she seemed to need a new cigarette, and since her Dad owned an import business she could afford to butt out one scarcely smoked and light a new one. She blew smoke at my water-stained wall.