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Any artist who worked in this ‘studio’ would’ve had to paint miniatures. The daybed, a couple of bean bags and a low coffee table just about covered the floor space; Geoff must have slept in the bath. He bludged two cigarettes from Erica and took the portable TV off to the kitchen. I heard the sound of a fridge door, a beer can popped and the electronic babble began at low volume. Geoff hadn’t contributed much to the evening, but no-one was paying him to talk.

‘Before you shoot through,’ I said, ‘talk. My guess is you’re a good talker.’

Erica sneered at the soft soap and puffed impatiently on her cigarette. Mai moved a pottery ashtray towards her and she flicked ash at it and missed.

‘Can’t tell you much,’ Mai said.

‘Tell us where Bill is,’ Erica snapped. ‘That’ll be enough.’

‘I don’t know.’

“Won’t do, mate,’ I said. ‘You must have had to deliver the cars somewhere. There must have been meetings, arrangements. That’s what we want to hear about.’

‘Bugger-all. S’cuse me, Miss.’ He sipped his coffee. ‘Instructions came by phone-where to go to pick up this and that. It’s more than my life’s worth to tell you where.’

‘Gaol if you don’t.’

‘I’ve been thinking about that. It’d take time and there’s some good legal men around. I’d have a chance that way. They might give me a break or the bloody car might turn up. If I talk I’m dead.’

‘You have been thinking. Let’s try to keep it general. What about dropping off the car?’

‘Car park. Leave the keys, papers, all the phoney stuff. Walk away. The fee came in the mail.’

‘How much?’

‘Grand a unit.’

‘How many’ve you done?’

‘That’d be telling. Look, I can’t help you. If I could put you on to Mountain I would. Then they could break his legs instead of mine.’

‘Someone threatened you?’ Erica flashed the question at him. ‘Who?’

‘Blower again. He put the wind up me-very nasty-sounding joker. Look, I’ll play square with you; I’ll tell you the only thing I know, just like I told him.’

‘I’m confused,’ Erica said. ‘You told who?’

‘The bloke on the phone.’

‘Told him what?’ I said.

‘Mountain mentioned Blackheath.’

‘Blackheath-in the mountains?’ Erica grabbed at the scrap of information like the last cigarette in a pack.

‘That’s it. I have to explain. I hardly knew him. A few drinks and a chat. Well…’ He rubbed his thin, white hand across the lower part of his face. Then he used it to pick up his coffee cup. From the look of the hand that was about as much hard work as it was accustomed to. “He was looking to make some money, so he told me. I’d done a few of these jobs, went all right, and they told me I could do a bit of recruiting, extra money, if I was careful. Careful! I must have been over-confident. Anyway, over a drink, he mentioned that he liked to drive up to Blackheath sometimes. That’s all. I don’t know why I remember it, even.’

‘Any ideas on why he didn’t deliver the car?’

‘No. He came through all right the first time.’

‘He did it before?’

‘Sure. Good job. That’s probably why they gave him the Audi. Shit, doesn’t he know what those things are worth?’

Just talking about it seemed to be increasing the strain on Mai. For one thing, he hadn’t apologised to Erica for saying ‘shit’. She was hopeless at being inscrutable. Her eyes and the rapid movement of her smoking hand told me that Blackheath meant something to her, and that she was already calculating about me. I decided to show keenness by keeping up the pressure on Mai.

‘You told the man who called you about Blackheath?’

He nodded. ‘You bet I did. I was happy to have something to give him. What do I owe Mountain?’

I looked at him and didn’t say anything.

‘It’s all right for you,’ he said quickly. ‘I saw your bloody gun. I’m not a tough guy. I was bloody glad to have something to say to him apart from “Please don’t kill me.’” He finished off his coffee. ‘I’ve had Geoff around ever since.’

‘How long’s that?’

‘A week. What’s your name by the way?’

‘You don’t need to know.’ I stood up and rubbed the edge of my hand where hitting Geoff’s biceps had hurt it. Erica stood up too.

‘Where are you going?’ There was a note of something like panic in Mai’s voice.

‘What’s it to you? Come on.’ I jerked my head at the door and Erica moved slowly. I started to like her more at that moment; she seemed to want to give some comfort to the little man.

‘Don’t you want to know what Mountain told me about himself…’

‘You already told us,’ I said. ‘Nothing. Don’t worry, Mai. You’ve got Geoff.’

Mai groaned but I had a feeling he could groan on cue. I opened the door and let Erica go past me.

‘Say goodbye to Geoff from me and tell him to work on his balance. It’s all in the balance.’ I shut the door and we went down the stairs. I held Erica back for as long as it took for a quick glance along the street. Woolloomooloo is never still, never silent, but there was nothing suspicious going on within sight. Erica tottered ahead of me on her high heels and I took her arm to steer her around a pile of rubbish spilling out from a blocked culvert.

‘Careful,’ she said. ‘That’s where he grabbed me.’

‘Sorry.’ Her arm was thin but had some nice yielding flesh on it. It was a fine arm to hold. I opened the car and let go the arm reluctantly. I put the key in the ignition and sat back.

‘Well, what do we know about Blackheath?’

She looked across at me. Her face was an interesting colour under the amber street lights. Her eyes seemed very dark and her teeth very white. ‘Are you working on your car case or looking for Bill, with me?’

‘It’s a nice point. Does it really matter? You’ve got the picture now. The other people looking for him are a hell of a lot rougher than me.’

‘That’s true. Let me think for a minute.’

‘How can you think? You haven’t got a cigarette.’

That earned me a smile; she proceeded to pollute my personal space. After a few puffs, she threw the cigarette out the window. Her sunglasses had slid down across her eyes from their perch on top of her head, and she pushed them back again. They took some of the fringe up and I saw the worry line again.

‘I’ll do a deal with you?’

‘I feel like one of your brothers again-the dumbest and littlest one.’

‘I’ll tell you about Blackheath if you’ll come up there with me.’

‘Your deals are all the same. I suppose I should be glad the terms haven’t got worse.’

She smiled at me with her white teeth, and I did the best I could in return with my yellowed fangs. ‘Okay. Deal. We’ll go first thing in the morning.’

‘No. We’ll go now.’


I dropped Erica on the smart side of Centennial Park and drove home to Glebe to prepare for the trip to the mountains. It was late and I was tired, but after the suburban people-and-property work I’d been doing of late, the search for William Mountain was a change and a challenge. I put on old jeans and boots, and tossed a bush jacket into the car along with a torch and a spotlight I could rig to the battery-all probably a city man’s overreaction to the harsh demands of the country.

Erica arrived in a taxi, and slung her bag into the back seat as she got in beside me. The bag clinked.

‘He might need something to drink.’

‘Probably,’ I said. ‘So might I.’

I hadn’t driven to the Blue Mountains for years, and I was surprised to see how easy they’d made it. The freeway runs you smoothly out to Parramatta, and it’s plain sailing from there to the beginnings of the climb at Springwood. Erica was silent for the first part of the trip, but she opened up after Springwood and told me about life with Mountain-the drinking bouts, blocks and euphoric breakthroughs that seem to be part of the writerly life. She spoke of camping trips that sounded more like fun, and filled me in on Blackheath.