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Peter Corris

The Big Score

Ram raid

He was waiting for me on the front porch of my house when I got home. Big, bulky, suited, self-assured. A cop.

I opened the gate and stood just inside it.

‘Are you Hardy?’

‘What if I am?’

‘Then I want to talk to you.’

I went back onto the footpath, closed the gate and fished out my mobile.

He advanced down the path and almost tripped on one of the pavers a tree root had lifted. ‘What the hell are you doing?’

‘Calling my solicitor. He lives close, can be here in a flash.’

I hadn’t noticed the unfamiliar car parked across the street and a little way down. My peripheral vision isn’t what it used to be. A uniformed policeman got out and began walking towards me.

‘Takes two to tangle,’ I said. ‘And three’s a crowd.’

The plain clothes man waved the uniform away. I heard the car door close. ‘They told me you were a smartarse.’

‘Did they tell you I don’t like being accosted by rude people at the end of a hard day?’

We stood with the gate between us. He was much the same height as me-say, 186 centimetres-and outweighed me by a good ten kilos. Years younger. It’s an old habit- estimating men by the centimetre, kilo and, lately, age, expecting competition or conflict. Doesn’t make for friendliness, but can head off personal injury.

‘Let’s start again,’ he said. ‘You-’

I said, ‘No. We’ll start with you identifying yourself and proving that identity and then telling me why you’re here. Of course, if I’m a terrorist suspect you don’t have to bother with any of that, or anything much-’

‘You’re determined to piss me off

I shrugged and juggled the mobile. ‘I hate bullies. Show me you’re not one.’

He didn’t like it, but he’d been out-boxed and he knew it. He produced his warrant card, identified himself as Detective Sergeant Christopher Wilson, and said he wanted to interview me in connection with a shooting.

I was mollified, but another old habit is making life tough for policemen. ‘Of whom?’ I asked.

He knew I was taking the piss, but held in his irritation and played along. ‘Cleve Harvey.’

I nodded.

‘You know him?’

‘What makes you think that?’

‘I’ve just about had enough of this, Hardy.’

I opened the gate, put the mobile away. ‘Yeah, me too. I know him. Can’t say I’m sorry he’s been shot. Or surprised. What’s it got to do with me?’

‘You haven’t asked how he’s doing.’

‘How’s he doing?’

‘He’s going to die.’

‘You don’t think I shot him?’

He raised his hand and I heard the car door slam across the street. Footsteps. ‘Let’s just say that you’re a person of interest.’

They took me to the Surry Hills police centre where I phoned Viv Garner, my solicitor. He said he’d be there within the hour. I waited, got up to go, escorted, to the toilet, and waited some more. Viv arrived and we were shown into an interview room. Decor functional, lighting adequate, atmospherics, since smoking went the way of the telephone directory slam and the kidney punch, sterile. Viv and I didn’t talk much. We’d been through the routine before and knew how to handle it unless there were any big surprises.

Wilson came in and fired up the recording devices. He announced the names of those present, the date and the time.

‘What’s the nature of your relationship with Cleve Harvey?’ Wilson said.

Viv said, ‘I think my client should be given some indication of why he’s a person of interest.’

‘It’s okay, Viv,’ I said. ‘I’ll cooperate as far as I can. Clue me if you spot anything sticky.’ I switched my attention to Wilson. ‘I met Harvey in Berrima gaol when I was serving a sentence for-’

‘No need,’ Viv said.

‘Right. Harvey was in for GBH. He was a thug and a standover merchant, heavying the young ones for cigarettes and winnings at cards. I fronted him and we had a fight. I beat him. We met up again in a pub a few years later and had another fight. I beat him again.’

‘This was when?’ Wilson said.

‘Perhaps two years back.’

‘He’s made what amounts to a dying declaration that you hired someone to kill him. His wife has made out an affidavit that he said the same to her several times before the shooting.’

Viv and I exchanged glances. Viv shrugged.

I said, ‘They’re both lying. No, hold on, she might not be lying that he said so. I don’t know the woman. I’m surprised that he had a wife or that he kept one. He was a complete…’

‘What?’

‘Careful, Cliff,’ Viv said.

I wanted to annoy Wilson, couldn’t help myself. ‘Misogynist,’ I said.

‘If this person doesn’t die,’ Viv said, ‘his statement amounts to nothing more than an accusation from a convicted criminal. And the wife’s statement is hearsay.’

Wilson nodded. ‘He’s dead. Just heard. He was murdered and your client’s name is the only one we have in connection with his death.’

‘You better look harder,’ I said. ‘His middle name was machismo, if it wasn’t arsehole, and-’

Viv cut in, ‘My client denies any involvement in the death of Mr Harvey. Unless you are prepared to charge him, and I hardly think that likely on what you’ve told us, he should be free to leave.’

To underline the point, Viv and I stood up.

Wilson hit the stop button. ‘It’s early days,’ he said.

Viv drove me home. We were turning into Glebe Point Road before he said, ‘What’s going on?’

‘Search me.’

‘Okay. There’s nothing to it, so you’re just going to sit quietly and let it fizzle out, right?’

‘What d’you think?’

His sigh lasted almost until we were outside my house.

I said, ‘I’ll be discreet and careful.’

‘That’ll be a first on both counts. Your licence is hanging by a thread, mate, as always. And remember that whatever you do on this you’re not getting paid.’

He shook my hand, which is not something we usually do. It seemed to jar me into a more serious mood and I went into the house keen to have a drink and a think.

A person in my game necessarily has contacts in the criminal community-as I suppose it’s called these days. The next morning I put the cases I had on hold and made some phone calls. Then I trawled around several pubs and clubs. Eventually I located Ian ‘Spider’ Herriot, a retired burglar. Spider said that the security upgrade in residential and commercial properties over the past ten years put him out of work. A fall from a roof brought on various disabilities and he wangled a pension that kept him just above the breadline. I met him in the bar of the John Curtin Hotel in George Street-good Labor man, Spider.

It was middies of light for me and schooners of old for Spider for a round or two before we got down to business. Enthusiastic morning drinkers all around.

‘Cleve Harvey,’ I said.

Spider is a failed jockey-short in stature, strong once, but retirement had softened him and smoking had wizened his features. He had the jockey’s high-pitched voice. ‘A prick’s prick,’ he piped.

‘Right. He’s dead.’

Spider raised his glass. ‘The world’s a better place.’

‘I want to get in touch with his woman.’

Spider is an old hand at the information game since his retirement. There was only one thing he wanted to know, and it wasn’t why. ‘How much?’

‘A hundred.’

He drained his glass. ‘Sol Levy’s is just down the way. Throw in a carton of fifties and you’re on.’

That would double the cost but I’d been prepared to shell out two hundred anyway. We walked down to the tobacconist’s and I bought the carton. Spider eyed it as though it was a life jacket floating towards a drowning man.

‘Lola Swift,’ he said.

I juggled the carton as foot traffic parted around us. ‘Address?’

‘Erskineville-the fuckin’ Belmont Arms at this time of day.’

I handed over the money and the cigarettes, but he didn’t thank me.

Before heading back to the John Curtin, Spider had given me a rough, highly unflattering description of Lola Swift and I spotted her as soon as I walked into the pub. About forty, looking fifty, stringy, gaunt-faced, blonde dye job, wearing a top and skirt more suited to a twenty-year-old. She was nursing a beer and bending over a racing guide.

     

 

2011 - 2018