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I shook my head.

'Good, good. Your suffering won't be in vain. I'll get you something for pain and suffering. This bloke's loaded. Dudded plenty of insurance companies.'

I followed him down the pa.s.sage into the kitchen at the back of the building. We sat at the formica-topped table. Drew opened two bottles of Coghills Creek lager. I had a sip, put the bottle down and put my hands in my pockets. Reformed binge drinkers know how things start.

'What's this about Helen?'

Andy drank about a third of his bottle, held it up to the light and gave a little laugh. 'Gone, mate. Gone to live in Eltham with a painter. Left me with the kids.'



'House?'

'She doesn't get the house. Not if I can help it.'

'The painter. Does he paint houses?'

'Oh. No f.u.c.king way. This is a romance. With a serious artist. Though no-one's ever heard of the c.u.n.t. Bruce Seal. You ever heard of Bruce Seal?'

'I hate to say this, but yes.'

'You're not supposed to say that. You're supposed to say never heard of the c.u.n.t.' He drank more beer and wiped his moustache. 'What have you heard about him, anyway?'

'Just your normal Eltham bloke. Hugely talented artist. Speaks five languages. Plays cla.s.sical piano. Two-handicap golfer. Fourteenth dan in karate. Twelve-inch d.i.c.k. Why?'

'Forget it. I don't think I'm going to get the sympathy I'm looking for.' He drained his beer and opened another one.

'How's Lorna?'

Drew looked at me suspiciously. Lorna was a public prosecutor he'd been having a desultory affair with for a long time. 'Lorna's fine. This has got nothing to do with Lorna. Helen doesn't know about Lorna.'

'What do the kids think?'

He held up his hands, palms outward. 'I don't know what Michael thinks. Only five billion people on the Internet know what Michael thinks. Vicky thinks it's cool. She was probably the only girl in her cla.s.s living with both her parents.'

I had a small sip. 'What's Helen say?'

Drew looked at the ceiling. 'She says she's fallen in love with a wonderful man and it wouldn't have happened if I'd found a little more time for her over the last twenty years. Does she think I've enjoyed working my a.r.s.e off?'

I said, 'She might. Everyone else does.'

'You p.r.i.c.k. This is what I get in my hour of need.'

'Sounds like that's what Helen got in hers. If it's a consolation, it probably won't last. They say Bruce is more of a hunter than a farmer.'

'They say that, do they? Your artistic friends.'

'You've got to broaden your social horizons, mate,' I said. 'There are people out there who aren't lawyers, cops or crims. Listen, what did you do with my old files?' I had a final swig of beer, got up and poured what was left into the sink.

It took me about twenty minutes to find Daniel Patrick McKillop's file. He'd pleaded guilty in the County Court on 22 November 1984 to a charge of culpable driving. The victim was a twenty-year-old woman called Anne Elspeth Jeppeson, knocked down in Ardenne Street, Richmond, at 11.40 p.m. on 18 June 1984. She died instantly. The Crown called a witness who saw McKillop driving the car minutes after the collision and later picked him out of a line-up. McKillop was found asleep at the wheel of the vehicle about an hour after the collision. He had a blood alcohol count of 0.1. Blood and clothing fragments on the vehicle matched those of Anne Jeppeson.

The headline on a clipping dated 23 November 1984 said: WITNESS SAW JEPPESON DEATH CAR.

The story read: The car that knocked down and fatally injured public housing campaigner Anne Jeppeson was seen swerving almost out of control three blocks from the scene, a court was told yesterday. The driver, Daniel Patrick McKillop, had a blood alcohol reading of 0.1 more than two hours later, according to evidence.

Mr McKillop, 24, of Zinsser Street, Richmond, pleaded guilty in the County Court to a charge of culpable driving on 18 June.

Anne Elspeth Jeppeson, 27, of Ardenne Street, Richmond, was killed instantly when she was struck by a vehicle outside her home on 18 June.

Mr Ronald Bishop said he was driving along Freeman Street, Richmond, at 11.40 p.m. on 18 June when a yellow car came weaving towards him.

'It almost hit the parked cars on my side of the street then it swerved across in front of me over to the other side and almost crashed into the cars there. The driver had to brake to avoid hitting them. It was almost out of control.'

Mr Bishop said he saw the driver's face clearly. He noted part of the car's registration number and telephoned the police when he got home.

Senior Constable Ivor Wilkins said Mr McKillop was found asleep behind the wheel of a yellow Ford Falcon belonging to him in the garage of his home. Mr Bishop later identified Mr McKillop as the driver of the vehicle he saw in Freeman Street.

Senior Constable Lauro Martines, of the traffic alcohol section, said Mr McKillop's blood-alcohol content was 0.1 per cent more than two hours after the accident.

Dr Alfred Hone, of the police forensic laboratories, said blood and fragments of cloth found on Mr McKillop's vehicle matched those of Miss Jeppeson.

Mr McKillop was remanded for sentencing until 4 December.

I found the clipping on 5 December under the headline: JEPPESON DEATH: DRIVER GETS TEN YEARS.

The story said that Daniel McKillop had a previous conviction for driving under the influence and had just emerged from his licence suspension at the time of the accident. He had been drinking in two hotels earlier that evening and had no recollection of the accident. The judge said some harsh things about drunken drivers, expressed regret at the loss of a 'courageous young woman with her life ahead of her' and complimented Mr Ronald Bishop on his public-spirited behaviour. McKillop got ten years in spite of his lawyer's plea that he was as much a victim as Anne Jeppeson: 'an unloved boy who has drifted into multiple addictions'.

I looked for his previous convictions. They took up half a page, mostly juvenile stuff. He had two convictions for drunken driving and was on a two-year suspension at the time of the accident. Somehow he'd never been to jail. The judge made up for that: McKillop got a non-parole period of eight years.

All of this was complete news to me. I looked at the date again: November 1984. It was at the beginning of the forgotten zone, the year or so I spent drunk and semi-drunk after my wife's death.

I looked through the other files for 1984 and early '85. There were only five or six after McKillop. I didn't remember any of them either.

I went back to Drew's office. He was reading something, beer on the desk.

'When I went off the rails back then,' I said, 'after Isabel's death...Did you try to keep me out of court?'

He took off his gla.s.ses and rubbed his eyes. 'I think you could say that,' he said. 'If it's worrying you, I hijacked all the defended matters between that day and the day you quit. I don't think you did any damage. Except to yourself.'

'And the firm,' I said. I felt a rush of grat.i.tude towards this gangling, unemotional man.

He put his gla.s.ses back on and reached for the beer. 'Nothing permanent,' he said. 'We had a fair bit of goodwill to live off.'

'This McKillop who was looking for me. Remember him?' I offered him the file.

He took a minute to look it over. 'No, not him. The woman was a bit of a name on the left. Used to drink at the Standard with the free housing push.' He handed the file back. 'Danny got what was coming to him, Jack. Probably just in the s.h.i.t again.'

At the front door, Drew said, 'I think I might take up seriously with Lorna.'

I put my hand on his shoulder. 'Mate, first look up "holiday" in the dictionary. It's an experience you might want to try. Want to come to the football on Sat.u.r.day?'

He screwed up his face. 'We haven't been to the football for a bit, have we?'

'No,' I said. 'A lot of the same names still around though. Only it's the sons.'

'f.u.c.k off. We'll go. Have a steak afterwards. At Vlado's.' He paused. 'Or Vlado's son's.'

Why did Danny McKillop want to see me so badly? I'd again put off ringing the number he'd left on the machine until I had him placed. The phone rang for a long time before a woman answered. I asked for Danny. There was a long silence. I could hear heavy traffic.

'Danny's not here.' The phone went down. I dialled the number again. The woman picked it up straight away.

I spoke quickly. 'Danny rang me. Left this number. Can you give him a message?'

Again, I listened to the traffic for a while before she spoke. 'Danny's dead,' she said. 'There's no point in ringing here.' Click.

I went to the window and watched the women from the pressing sweatshop across the lane on their smoko. They leant against the wall, laughing a lot, taking deep drags on their cigarettes. Then I looked up McKillop in the phonebook. There was a D. P. McKillop in Windermere Street, Northcote. I put my hand out to dial several times and withdrew it. Danny McKillop comes out of a black hole in my past, looks for me everywhere, and a few days later is dead. I opened the file I'd brought from Drew's. Danny would have been in his late thirties. Died of what?

When I finally dialled the number, a child answered, a girl, four or five perhaps.

'This is Kirsty McKillop speaking,' she said in precise tones. 'Mum's hanging up the washing.'

'Could I speak to her please, Kirsty,' I said.

'Hold on. I'll call her.'

I heard her shouting, 'Mum, a man's on the phone, a man's on the phone...'

When she came on, the woman was out of breath. 'h.e.l.lo, Sue McKillop.'

I said, 'Mrs McKillop, sorry to bother you. Is that the home of Daniel Patrick McKillop?'

I could hear her breathing. 'Danny died, was killed on Friday night.' Her voice was flat, slightly hoa.r.s.e.

'I'm terribly sorry,' I said. 'My name's Jack Irish. I was his lawyer once. He was trying to get hold of me last week, but I was away...'

'Yes, well, thank you for ringing, Mr Irish.'

'Forgive me asking, but how...'

She didn't let me finish. 'A policeman shot him. Murdered him.' She was making a statement of fact.

'Where did it happen?' I asked the question without thinking, and as I did a chill came over me.

'In a pub carpark. In Brunswick.'

'What pub was-'

'The Hero of Trafalgar.'

5

I never blamed myself for my wife's death. Not then or now. A client of mine, Wayne Waylon Milovich, shot and killed Isabel in a parking garage in La Trobe Street. When he'd done that, he taped a letter addressed to me to her forehead and went back to his car, a 1974 Ford Falcon with one hundred and thirteen unpaid parking tickets against its number. He then detonated two or three sticks of gelignite on his lap. The letter went: 'Mr Judas Lawyer Did You Now My Wife Run Away And Took My Kids While I Rotted In Jail Were You Sent Me Because You Wood Not Listen To What I Was Telling You As Your Clynt You b.a.s.t.a.r.d.'

Deranged clients. It's a risk you run. Isabel knew that. She practised family law, where practically all the clients are deranged to some degree. I didn't blame myself. I just raged against fate. I couldn't get that through to people. They kept telling me to stop torturing myself. They wanted me to blame myself. I wasn't walking around drunk, crying in pubs, getting into fights with strangers because I was blaming myself. I was in a state of incoherent rage. I had lost someone who had cast a glow into every corner of my life. I was ent.i.tled to my feelings. Loss. Hate. Hopelessness. Worthlessness. Only the return of Isabel would have been enough.

Isabel and I were very different. Her childhood was the opposite of mine: she grew up in a fierce tribe of children, all lovingly neglected by their parents, a musician and a painter. She had emerged from the chaos clever, funny, diligent, dreamy, sensuous, and with an affection and concern for other people that descended indiscriminately like warm summer rain. She came into my habitual gloom and dispelled it, dissolved it, with one endless, helpless laugh.

After her death, I lost control for months. I would have put Wayne together again fragment by fragment just to tear him apart with my hands and teeth. I could not be still. I could hardly bear to sit down. I could not listen to music, read, exchange more than a few words with anyone. I slept only when hopelessly drunk; I woke within minutes, slick with cold sweat. All food tasted like dry oats and I did not eat for days on end. After I walked out on Andrew Greer, I drifted for months, driving without aim, drinking all day in sour little country pubs, lapsing into unconsciousness in the car or in some paper-walled motel room. I got arrested eventually in a sodden town in Queensland called Everton. Someone went through my wallet and got word to Andrew Greer. He pulled strings with a relative, a Cabinet Minister in the Queensland government, to get me off a variety of charges without a conviction. My car had vanished. We flew home together. I'd been in the cells for six days, hadn't had a drink, was over the worst. I stayed at home for weeks, going out only to buy food, and then I began slowly to resume some sort of normal life.

Sitting in my office, elbows on the tailor's table, thinking about Danny McKillop brought the darkness of those times back to me. I wasn't over Isabel. I would never be over Isabel. She had made things complete, and they would never be complete again without her. I felt the pang of her absence every day, and at those moments I sometimes uttered an involuntary groan and shook my head like a dog.

Danny McKillop had been shot dead outside the pub where he was hoping I would come to meet him. I couldn't just leave the matter there. I knew I should leave it there, but I couldn't. At the worst time in his life, Danny had needed a sober lawyer. He had got me. Years later, he had turned to me again. And I didn't show up. I must have got home around 6.45 p.m. Would I have gone to the Hero of Trafalgar if I'd listened to the messages on the answering machine instead of going to bed? Probably. I'd have cursed a lot, but I'd have got there by 7 p.m. Sydney Road was only minutes away at that time on a Sat.u.r.day night.

The phone rang. It was Drew.

'Seen the Herald?'

'No.'

'Daniel McKillop's on page three.'

I got the paper at the corner shop. A small item on page three said: Police have identified the man shot dead by police in the carpark of the Hero of Trafalgar hotel in Brunswick on Sat.u.r.day night as Daniel Patrick McKillop, 34, of Northcote.

a.s.sistant commissioner Martin Doyle said the fatal shots were fired after Mr McKillop pointed a pistol at policemen who saw him behaving suspiciously in the hotel carpark shortly after 7 p.m.

'A full inquiry into the circ.u.mstances of Mr McKillop's death is in progress, but we have no reason to believe that the officers acted improperly, a.s.sistant Commissioner Doyle said. 'They feared for their safety.'

Mr McKillop was released from prison several years ago after serving eight years for killing a woman in a hit-and-run accident.

There wasn't anything to do except see Danny's widow.

Sue McKillop was on the plump side, with short dark hair and an open face made to smile. Her eyes were red. She was wearing a green tracksuit.

'You mind coming in the kitchen?' she said. 'I'm in the middle of Kirsty's tea.'

We went down the pa.s.sage into a large, warm room that had a kitchen on one side and lounge chairs and a television on the other. The girl was in pyjamas with small roses on them in front of the television, watching a game show.

'Kirsty, this is Mr Irish. Say how do you do.'

Kirsty said it.

I sat at a pine kitchen table and watched Sue McKillop cut toast into squares and pile on scrambled eggs from a pan.

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Bad Debts Part 2 summary

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