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Peter Corris

The Big Drop

The Big Drop

They found my late client, Norman Scholfield, at the bottom of a half-built office block in the city. That is, they found part of him there; the office block is destined to rise twenty-five storeys above our fair city and Norman came off the twentieth which is just a concrete shell. He’d bounced on the scaffolding a few times on the way down and this smeared and scattered him around a little. Still, my card was in pristine condition in his pants pocket, which was why Detective Sergeant Frank Parker was sitting in the client’s chair in my office. The last bum on that chair was the now fairly widely distributed Norman’s, but I didn’t tell Frank that.

‘What did you make of him?’ Parker said.

I shrugged. ‘Man in trouble, real or imagined. He had a delivery to make to an address and he needed protection.’

‘What was he delivering?’

‘Money, what else? Said he was paying off a bet.’

‘You believed that?’

I shrugged again. ‘People pay on bets, happens every day. Times are tough, Frank. He was a nice guy; I liked him. In this business liking the people who hire you is a bonus. He paid up like a gentleman.’

‘I bet he did. Where was the delivery to?’

‘Well, that’s another thing-wasn’t as if it was a meeting in a sewer. How about you answer a question or two before I have to give my grand-mother’s maiden name?’

Frank looked interested; that was what made him more agreeable than the average cop-he had more on his mind than charge sheets and beer. ‘D’you know your grandmother’s maiden name?’

‘One of ‘em, yeah. Come on, Frank. Give a bit.’

‘Norman had a few convictions and a few near misses. Nothing big, nothing very bad-fraud mostly.’ He grinned at me. ‘People found him a nice guy.’

I let that pass.’ I didn’t think he was Fred Nile. So the money was hot?’

‘We don’t know, we didn’t find any money; but the thing is, the forensic boys noticed some dye on his hands. You know, the kind that gets on money that men with stockings over their heads take out of banks.’

I was reaching back for my wallet before he finished talking. ‘He gave me a couple of hundreds; I broke one of them.’ The other hundred dollar note was nestling in cosily with a couple of twenties and some others hardly worth talking about. I pulled it out and handed it to Frank. He looked at it.

‘Looks clean to me. Got an envelope?’

I passed one across and he put the note in it. ‘Want a receipt?’

‘Bet your arse.’

‘You’ll have to come down to the station to get one.’

I spread my hands. ‘I’ll trust you. Well, let me know how it checks out.’

‘Don’t be funny, Cliff. Norman wasn’t up there for the view, and there’s too much of that tie-dyed money floating around for comfort. This is a serious matter, and I want the address you went to.’

I looked out the window while I considered it. Scholfield had commented on the view when he was in the office: ‘Water view’, he’d said, meaning the road repair trench that had filled up from the burst main. We’d had a few laughs and he’d paid me two hundred dollars for two hours easy work. I thought I owed him a little posthumous consideration.

‘I’ll take you there,’ I said. ‘Unexplained client death is bad for business.’

Frank said okay, put my hundred bucks away in his pocket and we went downstairs.

I thought about the pub Scholfield and I had stopped at on our way to Hunters Hill, but I didn’t mention it to Frank; he wasn’t likely to tell me what his boss had said to him about the case or the other leads they might be pursuing, so why should I flap my mouth? The police driver drove like they all do, as if the roads were built for them alone. We made good time to Hunters Hill. The house was a big, white-painted place, almost showy with its lush garden and the ironwork picked out in black on the gates and the driveway being just long enough to have a small, prestigious, bend in it.

We sat in the car and looked at the house.

‘You sure he went in?’ Frank said. ‘He didn’t just hide in the bushes for a while?’

‘He went in, stayed half an hour, maybe less, came out. I waited out here. He took a bag in-lightweight, zippered thing-and came out with his hands in his pockets.’

‘What then?’

‘We were in my car. I drove him back to town. Dropped him in Broadway.’

Frank snorted. ‘You must’ve had a peg on your nose the whole time. You didn’t see anyone in the house?’

I shook my head.

‘Eloquent. Okay, let’s take a look.’

The three of us got out of the car, crossed the street and didn’t bother trying to look inconspicuous. It was an unusual experience for me- pushing open a gate and marching up to a front door without having to think about pretending to be someone else or how to prevent the door being slammed in my face. I tried to enjoy it, but somehow it didn’t seem to be as much fun.

Frank rang the bell until the chimes inside got boring. Back off the porch and down around the side: the lush garden didn’t look so lush up close. It had been carefully tended in the past but was beginning to look a little dried out at the edges. The back of the house was an extravaganza in glass; double doors were set between ceiling-to-floor windows; cane blinds shaded cork-tiled floors. The driver looked enquiringly at Frank and when he got the nod he pulled out a bunch of keys and started on the lock. I glanced across at the big garage with its double roller-door and heard the lock open before I could look back. None of us pulled his gun; we’d all been inside empty houses before and we were not afraid.

It was a lot of house to be standing empty-four bedrooms, two bathrooms, big modern kitchen and rooms for sitting and eating in. All the relevant activities could’ve been done there with considerable comfort, but it didn’t look as if much of anything had gone on for some time. There was a layer of dust over a lot of the surfaces: a trained observer might have detected more; as for me, I’d say the odd person or two had had a snack and a drink and a wash of the hands lately. The toilet had been used, too. The power and water were on and the phone was connected; there was food in the cupboards and more plus beer and wine in the refrigerator. Like all snoopers, we began by creeping and ended by stamping our feet. We didn’t say anything because there was nothing to say. Re-grouped at the back door, we looked to Frank for leadership.

‘Let’s try the garage,’ he said.

‘Funny,’ I whispered. ‘That’s what I was going to say.’

The driver looked enquiringly at Frank again; with a different superior he might’ve got a chance to practise his kung-fu, but Frank was used to me. He closed his eyes and mimed counting to ten. ‘Cliff,’ he said. ‘I wish I could have you on the force, with me out-ranking you, just for a little while.’

We were walking towards the garage. ‘What would you do, Frank?’

He stopped and looked back at the house. ‘Right now, I’d send you to look up in the roof and down into the foundations.’

‘Messy,’ I said. ‘Let’s hope we find the money and the bodies and the confessions in the garage.’

The driver was an artist-the roller-door came up just like it does in the commercials and we stepped into a space big enough to hold three cars and light enough to play table tennis in. But there were no cars and no table tennis table-instead, there were a couple of benches covered with jars and retorts and plumbed for hot and cold water. There were bottles and brushes and magnifying glasses and a microscope. There were powders and pastes, tubes of goo and glass plates with metal clamps. I followed Parker as he ranged along the nearest bench; the biggest bottle had a screw top and Parker spun it off.

‘Well?’

‘Can’t be sure,’ he said. ‘But I think it’s the blue stuff that gets onto the money.’

‘You know what that makes this set-up, then?’

‘Yeah,’ he growled. ‘Looks like this is where they try to get it off.’

     

 

2011 - 2018