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She found a small fork in a drawer.

'You can eat in front of the TV tonight, darling,' she said, taking the plate over to the girl and kissing her quickly on the forehead.

When she came back, she sat down opposite me. 'My dad's coming from Queensland tonight,' she said. 'He's nearly eighty. I told him not to. We'll be all right.'

I said, 'What about Danny's family?'

She smiled, a wan lip movement. 'We're it. He was brought up by his nanna. She died while he was inside. There's just a cousin.'



'Danny left a message for me to meet him at the Trafalgar on Sat.u.r.day night,' I said. 'I didn't get it until Sunday. Why did he want to see me?'

She moistened her lips. 'He was scared. They waited for him outside here on Thursday night, but he parked around the corner and when he was walking towards the house he saw them.'

'Who?'

'I don't know. Men. It's from the accident. Something, I don't know.'

'The accident Danny went to jail for?'

'Yes. He didn't do that.'

'Why do you say that?'

She shrugged. 'Someone told him he was fitted up. Someone who knew.'

'Do you know who the person was?'

'No. It was a woman. Danny said something about her husband dying.'

'When was that?'

'About a month ago. He changed all of a sudden. Got upset easily. Why do you want to know?'

I hesitated. 'I may be able to do something.'

She hugged herself. 'You can't do anything. You can't bring Danny back.'

'You said the police murdered him.'

'Danny never had a gun. And if he'd had one, why would he threaten the police?'

'Perhaps he didn't know they were police.'

She ran a hand through her short hair. 'The policeman who came here said the men identified themselves to Danny as police.'

'Danny been okay since he came out?'

She looked me in the eyes. 'Danny wasn't a crim. He finished school in jail. He worked with a friend of mine at Marston's. That's how I met him. It's a car part company in Essendon.'

'He used to be on smack.'

She shook her head. 'In another life. He wouldn't even drink more than two stubbies.'

I believed her. One thing practising law gives you is a feeling for some kinds of truth.

'When he saw the people waiting for him outside,' I said, 'what did he do?'

'He went to a callbox and rang Col Mullens next door and Col came over and called me to the phone.'

'Why didn't he ring here?'

'I don't know.'

'What did he say?'

'He said he couldn't come home because the house was being watched and he'd stay somewhere else for the night and sort it out on Friday. He was scared. I could hear it.'

'Why didn't he go to the police?'

She shook her head and took a tissue out of her sleeve. 'Danny reckoned the cops were in on it.' She blew her nose. 'Had to be the cops fixed him up for the accident, didn't it? Did you know they gave him pills and stuff to take every day before the trial? Danny said he didn't hardly know where he was.'

'No, I didn't know that. So the men outside could have been cops?'

'Suppose so.'

'He didn't say they were cops?'

'No.'

'Have you told all this to the cops?'

'Yes. Friday night when they come around here.'

The girl came over with her plate. 'Cream, please,' she said, eyes fixed on me. Sue got up, took a tub of ice cream out of the fridge, put two scoops in a bowl and handed it to her daughter.

'Would you like some?' the girl said, showing me the bowl.

'No thanks, Kirsty,' I said. 'I haven't had my tea yet.'

She nodded and went back to the television.

Sue said, 'I'm sorry. I haven't offered you anything...'

I shook my head. 'That's fine. What did Danny do after this woman phoned him about being fixed up for the hit and run?'

'He said he was going to get the case opened again. The person who told him said there was evidence.'

'And did he find any?'

'I don't think so. I don't know. He wasn't a big talker, Danny. He'd sort of plan things in his head for weeks, just sit thinking, and then one day he'd just start doing something and he wouldn't stop until it was finished.' She looked around in pride and wonder. 'Like this room. Danny built the whole thing in two weeks in his holidays. I didn't even know he could knock a nail in.'

'Great piece of work,' I said. 'Does this phone number mean anything to you?' I read out the number Danny had left on the answering machine.

'No. I don't know that number.'

I had other questions but suddenly I wanted to be out of the snug room that Danny McKillop had built for his little family and out in the cold, streaming evening. I gave Sue my card and left. The child came to the front door and waved at me.

6

'I should've taken the f.u.c.ken package, Jack,' Senior Sergeant Barry Tregear said.

We were sitting in my car in the carpark of the Kensington McDonald's, eating Big Macs. Barry Tregear also had two large French fries and a large c.o.ke. He was a big man with a pear-shaped head, its summit and three upper slopes thinly covered in greying blond stubble. He always looked two slabs of beer away from fat, even when I'd first met him in Vietnam, but nothing moved when he walked.

'You could've gone back to Hay,' I said.

Barry grew up somewhere out on the endless plains around a town called Hay in New South Wales. His father hadn't come back from World War II, along with half of the other fathers of the kids in his school.

'f.u.c.k Hay,' said Barry. 'Bloke offered me half a motel outside Lismore. Was in Licensing with me. Turned it down like a stupid p.r.i.c.k. He sells out a couple of months ago, doubles his money. And I'm still driving around in the f.u.c.ken rain, member of an elite group. Number eight on the new Commissioner's Top Ten s.h.i.t list. Is that judgment or f.u.c.ken what?'

He took a savage bite of his Big Mac.

A lot of work had drifted my way in the old days because of Barry. He'd been in Consorting and then Major Crimes, squads closed down now but once home for hard men all but indistinguishable from the criminals they spent most of their time with. I'd had plenty of clients who'd come in and said variations on 'Barry Tregear reckons y'might get me a fair shake'.

I said, 'You've got an ex-cop for a Police Minister now. He'll see you old blokes right, won't he?'

Barry took in about eight chips and chewed thoughtfully. 'Garth Bruce is a c.u.n.t. And he's got selective amnesia. You hear him sprouting all that s.h.i.t about getting rid of the old culture in the force? Mate, I'm part of the old culture and f.u.c.king proud of it,' he said around the potato.

'What exactly is the old culture?'

'The dinosaurs left over from when it didn't count if you took an extra ten bucks for the drinks when you put in for sweet for your dogs. When you had to load some c.o.c.kroach to get it off the street. Public f.u.c.ken service. We're the ancient p.r.i.c.ks think it's okay to punch out slime who dob in a bloke who's walked out on the wire for them to f.u.c.king Internal Affairs. That's us. That's the old culture.'

I said, 'They got all of you on armed robbery now?'

Barry finished the chips, drained the c.o.ke, put everything away neatly in the recyclable brown paper bag, opened his window and threw the bag out into the carpark. 'The ones they're hoping will take a bullet,' he said. 'We're out there doing the in-progresses. When I done this line of work years ago, only the mad dogs fired on you. Now it's all f.u.c.ken mad dogs. They all fire on you. Chemical war's going on inside their heads. The stuff come in the nose is fighting with the stuff come up the arm. Cause for concern, I can tell you.'

He looked at his watch. 's.h.i.t. I've gotta get moving. What's your interest in this McKillop?'

'Ex-client of mine. Wife reckons he thought someone wanted to kill him.'

Barry sighed. It triggered off a burp. 'Jesus,' he said, 'I'm all wind. Listen, short story is this Quinn, drug squad, he got a call just before seven Sat.u.r.day night, there's a handover set for the yard of the Trafalgar, 7 p.m. There was a bit of stuffing around, they didn't get there till quarter past.'

He burped again and patted his pockets. 'Never got a b.l.o.o.d.y Quikeze when you need one. Anyway, they hang around for a bit, no-one in sight, reckon they've missed the boat. Then they take a stroll through the cars, one from each end, and this c.u.n.t pops up with a .38 pointing at Martin, Quinn's offsider. So Quinn, who's behind this guy, puts four in him. Dead on arrival. There's about five hundred bucks' worth of smack in his car. End of story.'

'And McKillop?'

'Form.'

'Not since.'

'Well s.h.i.t's s.h.i.t.'

'Wife can't believe it. Kid, job. Says he's been absolutely straight.'

Barry gave a snort. 'That's what Mrs Eichmann said.' He rubbed his stomach.

'What if Quinn went out, knocked him and planted the gun and the s.h.i.t?' I said.

Barry gave me a long look, shaking his head. His eyes were light green, with little dark flecks. 'Jack,' he said. 'Jack, he's an officer with sixteen years' service. You take my meaning?'

'No.'

He got out of the car and leaned in. 'He'd have knocked him somewhere less public. Mate, I got to go. I'm further up s.h.i.t creek if I don't get to town in about five minutes.'

'I'll be in touch. Buy you a drink,' I said.

Barry put his head back in the window. 'Drinks, mate, drinks. You're dealing with the old culture here.'

'Danny's dead,' the old woman said through the small opening. 'Who're you?'

I was standing on the leaking porch of a weatherboard house in Richmond. I'd got the address from a prison officer I knew from the days when I visited clients in Pentridge. The prison records had Mrs Mary McKillop, aunt, as Danny McKillop's next of kin. I looked her up in the phone book: it was the number Danny had left on the machine. Sue McKillop hadn't known the aunt was alive and had no idea how to find the cousin she'd mentioned.

'Mrs Mary McKillop?' I said.

'He's dead,' she repeated. 'Whad'ya want?'

'I'm a lawyer. I'd like to talk about Danny.'

'Danny's dead. b.u.g.g.e.r off.'

The two-inch opening closed with a crack. I stared at the door's peeling green paint for a while, thinking about trying again. I could still smell the ancient fumes of boiled cabbage and cat p.i.s.s and decaying ceilings that had leaked out when the door opened. That decided the issue. But as I turned the door opened a sliver.

'Try next door.'

The door closed again.

I tried the house to the right. A thin woman in her forties with lank, dead hair answered my knock. She blinked at me as if unaccustomed to light.

'I'm making inquiries about Danny McKillop,' I said.

She looked at me for a long time, then she put her hands in the pockets of her pink housecoat. 'He's dead. Was in the paper.' Her voice was toneless.

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Bad Debts Part 3 summary

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