“Hi, Sacha Thomas here. Yes, it’s a boy’s name. Sorta French. I think.”
“Sacha, answer your phone properly.”
“Oh, sorry Mr. Gravenmaker. Thought it was a friend on the line. It’s after hours and usually nobody…”
“Well, I just called and I’m not nobody. I’m who pays you. That’s how somebody I am.”
“Of course. Sorry, Mr. Gravenmaker.”
“Sacha, are you working fast through that list of names Riordan left for you to call?”
“Yes, yes. I already called a couple…”
“Well you need to cover all the time zones that are in waking hours, and tonight. There’s a merger going on, if you haven’t noticed.”
“Tonight? It’s late and some of them are overseas numbers and…”
“Sacha, we have got to tell our new partners about every file, however obscure. That’s what these people are like. To tell the truth, that’s what I’m like. We have to show that we’ve gone through all old files and made every effort to update. Email and leave messages where you can’t do anything else, but I want you to try and talk with people. This firm is not going to look like a bunch of slobs, and we’re not letting one neglected matter slow down this merger for one second. Clear?”
“I know you’re a USC graduate and you might feel this is secretarial duties, but it’s not. We only pay you like a secretary.”
“That’s not so funny, Mr. Gravenmaker.”
“It is from where I’m sitting…and where you might want to sit one day. Make the calls, Sacha. Get all this old crap sorted, and fast. Start with A for Australia and don’t stop till Zambia, unless it’s middle of the night there.”
“Yes. Hello. Easterman. Hello. You’re very faint.”
“Oh, high there, it’s Sacha Thomas here, from Gravenmaker and Coyne Legal Partners. We’re in Portland, Oregon…”
“I know Portland. What’s this about?”
“Hope it’s a lovely day for you there on the middle coast of New South Wales…”
“It’s okay. Midcoast, we call it. Actually, it’s pissing rain. Look, what’s this about?”
“Sir, our firm has been provided with this number by, well, a kind of investigation service. We’re told we can contact a Sharon Easterman, nee Conlon, at this number.”
“Er…yes. I suppose. I’m Gregor Easterman. What’s this about?”
“Mmm…yes, spouse. What’s it about?”
“Well, I’d very much like to talk to Mrs. Easterman, if she’s available.”
“She’s not. If you’d just tell me what it’s about…”
“Ideally, I should speak to the lady…”
“Well, she’s not here. She comes and goes, and I can’t see either of us wanting to return a call to Portland. Just give me some idea what this is about.”
“Oh, not much. I have an old file which concerns her. Possibly defunct, but we have to check. It’s right here in front of me. It hasn’t been reviewed for some years. Maybe if I have a quick read through myself, so I can give you an outline….Let’s see…”
“Well, are you still there?’
“Uh, yes. I’m still…”
“Still glancing through…There must be some…some misunderstanding or…”
“What are you on about?”
“Hello! Still there? Hello!”
“Um…Mr. Easterman…I don’t know if I’m reading right…There has to be an oversight here…Maybe I should check with…”
His voice became a mutter, then trailed into silence.
“For God’s sake, what is it? What’s in this file? What’s wrong?”
“Mr. Easterman…I just slid out of my chair and I am now talking to you from the floor of this office.”
“I’m not saying there’s anything in this, but…if you read what I just read…”
The man pointed to Item 26 on the menu.
“Is this mild, medium or hot?”
“In between mild and medium.” The waiter, a plump Korean with a fixed sneer, was indifferent. But the customer persisted:
“More mild or more medium?”
“Can you make it mild?”
“It’ll cost extra.”
The man handed the menu back to the waiter after placing a large envelope inside.
“If you order number 26 you can’t change your mind. It’s a special order.”
“Here’s your number.”
The man stared at a slip of paper on which the waiter had just scrawled.
“We don’t leave paper with you. Bad for planet, too much paper.”
“I’ll remember my number.”
After the waiter had waddled indifferently back to the kitchen, the man got up and left. Nobody observed him leave without eating, and, in fact, no food was brought to his table.
It was the usual slight standoff. Quinlivin, of course, swam easily through every situation; but Dessie Saleh was still uncomfortable entertaining a retired chief inspector in their prison winery. He kept his distance, fiddling with casks and boxes which probably needed no fiddling. Dibs, for his part, sat to the edge of his stool, occasionally smoothing his trousers at the knees, to express his own unease at keeping familiar company with convicts. This did not stop him tasting his tumbler of wine with far more attention than he ever thought to give any beverage. Dibs had even taking to inquisitive sniffing, between tongue-grinds and lip-smacks.
“You know, Quin, you hear about wine not travelling, as they say. Now, I don’t claim, or want, to be some kind of expert…but this stuff tastes better here on site. You know, while I do appreciate you sending me that case of older stuff, I just don’t get as much…you know…as much sweetness and…pepperiness and so on…as when I drink here. Anyway, you’ve only had the one vintage before this one. What diff can a few months make?”
As Dibs peered almost lovingly at his emptying tumbler, Quinlivin sent Dessie a quick look of despair, the look of a man who has arranged for a case of Hill of Grace, worth thousands, to be stripped of labels and sent off as his own faked jail concoction. Dessie’s eyeroll and shrug said it: One can try too hard in this life.
“Well, Dibs, it can sometimes be the delightful company which fills out the flavour.”
Dibs shot him a look which started to say that the company of criminals would never be more than just barely acceptable. But he said nothing, particularly because he did find himself drawn to these odd new companions of his retirement, and he was in Quin’s debt. That was the truth of it; but many arrow-straight men owed Quinlivin.
“I’m sure if you keep tasting that case I’ve had sent out to you, you’ll come to grips with the whole ageing thing. The stuff you drink here is pretty raw…”
“Mmm. Doesn’t seem to be doing much damage.”
Quinlivin sipped on his tea, and one of those poker silences descended. At last:
“You know, Quin, I’m starting to feel like one of those old Pommie sheilas in mystery yarns: you know, the ones who keeps attracting crimes in quiet little villages. Don’t you ever wonder how places where nothing much happens become hotbeds, just so some amateur lady dick can solve crime after crime?”
“Never thought of you as an Agatha Christie heroine, Dibs. But don’t worry. Everywhere’s a hotbed. It’s a naughty world. We just don’t notice. Well…I notice, of course.”
“Maybe I’m starting to notice. It may seem a bit mad, but I think I’ve had another, you know, mystery of sorts drop in my lap. Another one! Where I came to bloody retire.”
“Dibs, a man with your fishing ability needs an interest away from the water.”
“Never mind about my fishing ability! I’ve caught plenty when I was young. In six inches of water at low tide, right off those sandbars close to the old town. Me and mates, we’d suck the yabbies out of the mud, use hands if we couldn’t borrow a suction gun or shovel, put ’em fresh on a handline, use rocks if we couldn’t afford lead sinkers…”
“Dibs, just getting back to the present millennium, what’s this little mystery that’s dropped into your lap? I’m assuming you’d like a bit of input from me.”
“Input! Who taught you social worker talk? Crims of my day didn’t use words like input.”
“Well, now I’m an author…”
“Like that’s going to help get you free in five!”
“Closer to four now, Dibs…But have a look at Dessie. He’s interested in this mystery too. Old cameleer’s son: loves a yarn, does Dessie. Don’t you Dessie? Don’t you like a good story?”
The little Ghan blushed and went back to fiddling, but moved closer.
“Well there isn’t that much to tell…but it’s pretty baffling stuff. Concerns a friend of Gwen’s. You know how I am about anyone who took an interest in my Gwen…
“Anyway, I’ll give you the short of it. Then you decide if you want the long of it. If my mood seems a bit off today, there’s a reason. Someone I had a bit of time for has passed away.
“Sharon Easterman – name might be familiar – was found dead from an overdose last Tuesday.
“She’d been living in a flat at Hat Point since she separated from her husband last year. Used to be a flash sort, well paid model in her young days. Still was a bit of a flash sort in her fifties. Don’t know if she’d ever done much except be a flash sort, but she was extra good to my Gwen when we’d come up here on holidays, shortly before the end. Gave her that female company when she couldn’t get out much. I don’t forget the people who took an interest in my Gwen…Of course, that was when Sharon was still living with her husband, Gregor Easterman, at their sanatorium up in the hinterland.”
“Easterman…The bloke who owns the Bellobello Emporium, as well as that huge centre where they do conventions, alternative therapies…”
“That’s the one. Married Sharon when she was a glamour, but coming down from a decade of drugs and drifting around ashrams. She’d gone missing in London then India for years. No living family, so nobody noticed – till she reappeared in the Haven, where her father had been a GP. He’d left her a flat up at Hat Point, and some money: nothing special, enough to survive. She started trying to sort herself out, went up to Easterman’s place for yoga and that sort of stuff. Shortly after, she married him. She was the face of Easterman’s businesses for a bit. You might have seen her on local ads for the Emporium and for the sanatorium a few years back.
“The sanatorium is where she met my missus. I used to drive Gwen up there for massage, about the only activity she could handle toward the end, if you call it activity. Anyway, Gwen and Sharon Easterman, they met, they got on. Both kind women with different problems.
“I suppose Sharon was ideal for a bloke like Easterman: she was blonde, stunning, vulnerable…Look, I’m talking out of place, but I just don’t like the bloke. Sharon had us up to dinner one night and there was something about the bloke…”
“Like everyone he meets is a stepping stone an obstacle or a nothing? That sort of bloke?”
“Exactly. A bloke who measures every bugger he meets for mince or fillet potential, even if it’s just to keep in practice. Anyway, Sharon had one of her crack-ups last year, though there were no drugs involved. Easterman sent her to a clinic in Port Tench. Gwen had passed away, I was retired and back up the coast by then; heard Sharon was ill, and popped in to see her a bit. By the time she came out of the clinic Easterman had hooked up with Julia Jonas, who’d been one his regulars…”
“The retired soapie star?”
“That’s the one. Did some movies and talk shows as well. Had a good quid after she divorced that bloke with the string of restaurants. Sharon found out, didn’t muck around. She moved straight back to the family flat at Hat Point. She wasn’t the type to fight hard for property and so on, but she was no fool either. In spite of a pre-nup which would leave her with bugger all, she made it clear she would be starting divorce proceedings. And I think she was starting to get a clearer idea about the bloke she’d married. Wouldn’t suprise me if that was the main cause of her crack-up.
“Anyway, some months back Sharon rang me from Queensland. She said she had to ring somebody because she was bursting with a secret, had to let it out. Easterman had come by unannounced and asked her to go with him for a drive to the Gold Coast. She said yes after the asking became humiliating begging; then they both headed north together. They registered at the Shelton, and he tried, I’m guessing without success, to make a romantic time of it. He kept insisting he had made a big mistake, needed time to dislodge Miss Soapie, who’d tipped a pile of money into the business, asked Sharon to be patient. She agreed to be patient, but said divorce was still more likely than not.
“He kept begging her, said that Julia Jonas was in a position to cause huge trouble, he’d been a fool and so on. He’d wanted to discuss matters away from the Haven, in some place where they’d be anonymous. And he kept stressing that she was to keep everything secret, regardless of what decision she took regarding the divorce. The businesses were at stake.
“Well, she broke the rule and rang me, while he went out on business for an hour or two and she’d gone shopping about the Corso after they’d checked out of the Shelton. She asked me for an opinion about getting back with the bloke, and I told her the only sensible thing I could, without sticking my nose too far in. I told her to give it time, not to commit to anything, but see how fair dinkum the bloke was. I think she could tell by my tone – apparently I have a certain tone – what I really thought: namely, that this rooster was trying to use here in some way.
“Anyway, she was back at home in Hat Point that night. Relations with the husband stayed good for several months, Julia Jonas had moved off the scene completely. There was no divorce – but no reconciliation. I kept in touch with Sharon. Every month or so I’d take her up to the Hat Point golf club for some lunch. You know, she had a way of remembering Gwen, we talked about Gwen, small stuff…I was careful not to raise her marriage as a subject of conversation. Secretly I was relieved she hadn’t gone back to the bloke; I was even a bit proud of her. Whatever Easterman was angling for, I think he’d found out that Sharon was soft, but no fool.
“The other day Sharon Easterman was found dead from an overdose much like the overdoses that had nearly killed her in the past.
“End of story? I dunno…I just don’t know.”
“You think…the husband?”
“Why would he? There was a very, very detailed pre-nup, protecting Easterman to his back teeth. A divorce wouldn’t have even scraped an inch of duco off what he had. Sharon told me that herself, and she was very clear about it.
“From an inheritance point of view, she had a flat that was worth a bit, but nothing compared to what he owned. A pittance, not worth arguing over, let alone killing for.
“Insurance is your next question, isn’t it? I checked with a mate who knows everything about everyone’s insurance – Gavin di Gianvincenzo – to see if there was any any sort of angle there. Nothing. Meanwhile, she was costing Easterman very little, since she had her flat and small income. Insurance looks the most likely motive, but there’s bugger all there.”
“Hmm, if Gavin says there’s nothing, there’s nothing.”
“How the bloody hell do you know Gavin?”
“I’m bound to know someone that sharp, Dibs. Long story about Gav and me. I’ll tell you one day. So…no motive! Sharon wasn’t standing in his way, he actually wanted reconciliation. What about kids? What about Sharon’s family.”
“No kids and no family. Both parents divorced then deceased long ago. They’d been raised by the father, Dr Conlon, here in the Haven area. Not a bad lot, but not a happy lot. She had a much older brother, Peter Conlon, who died decades ago. I seem to remember him from when I was coming back to the Haven on holidays. Eccentric kid who built his own motorised tricycle.”
“No, brain tumour. Sharon said they’d been close after their parents died, but that he was a complete square peg. Moved to Sydney, mucked around with electronics, lived in the same sheds and garages where he tinkered. Made a tiny living selling devices he’d cooked up himself, fixed adding machines and so on. I think his death was what finally sent her wandering off. There were years when she might have been anywhere. She was anywhere.”
“Dibs, there’s nothing. The lady died. And that’s all.”
“Maybe…maybe…but there are things…one or two things…”
“Firstly, I’m fairly sure she was clean and staying that way. I know that doesn’t mean much coming from an average observer…but I’m a Sydney copper who’s worked the Cross. I say she was clean of drugs.”
“Sharon had a computer. A very old one assembled by her brother, Peter. She kept it for sentimental reasons, but it actually worked for little games and so on.”
“The local police had me round to her flat after Sharon’s body was removed. They knew I was a friend.”
“The computer was missing.”
“Dibs, an old computer…people throw those thing out every day.”
“No, it had just been removed. There was a mark on the desk where it had sat for years. Sharon was neat, obsessive even. She would never have neglected to wipe down. I’m not pronouncing why or by whom, but that computer had been taken away within hours, not days.”
“You checked garbage and so on?”
“Everything. Local tip, back lanes. Gone.”
“Discs? Old software?”
“I checked drawers, everywhere she might keep things like that. Nothing.”
“Hmm, so it’s all gone and no hope of retrieval…”
“When my Gwen was sick we had an old computer ourselves, so Gwen could play simple games. She could handle a cursor, and the games were nice and slow. Sharon suggested it, taught her how to play and even brought round a bunch of old discs. I looked around for those discs yesterday and found them.”
Dessie Saleh had moved forward shyly and was listening hard. Quinlivin explained:
“Dessie didn’t waste those fifteen years he got for knifing the blokes who killed his dad. He knows computers, especially the early types.”
“Well, they’re very old discs: there’s one just for making the system go, and a couple for games. I think that’s all, but I don’t have an old computer any more, or a new one either. Maybe there are some personal records or stuff worth looking at. But they’re antiques, those discs. Long shot, at best. But it’ll niggle away at me till I know what’s on them.”
“I can…usually make things work, Mr. Dibble. I can use old drives…piece things together…”
It was the first time Dessie Saleh had addressed Don Dibble. The shy little Ghan from the Territory still could not believe he was socialising with a towering, gruff-voiced chief inspector, retired or not.
Dibs looked at Quinlivin, who winked.
“Righto. I’ll bring the discs round as soon as I can. I don’t hold out much hope, Quin, but there’s something about Sharon’s death…You know, there are experts who can bodgie up a murder so perfectly, especially by apparent overdose. The customer pays for a shirt or a bowl of noodles in a prescribed way, there’s almost no contact between parties, just a specified victim, a preferred method and a payment mechanism an actuary would get lost in…but you probably do know, don’t you, Quin?”
Quinlivin was nodding.
“And if someone has the brains to use professionals like that, and enough money to afford them…”
“Like Gregor Easterman? The cost of that bowl of noodles would certainly be more than any property he could inherit from his wife. Dibs, there’s your problem, right there: no motive whatsoever. But let’s have a look at anything you can get hold of concerning Sharon Easterman, especially those discs.”
“I’ll get right on to it. I’m assuming since you’ve got the run of this prison you won’t have any problems setting up a computer here.”
“No, Dibs. I won’t…but you’re not supposed to say it. And I may need all phone and internet records for the Eastermans. That may take a couple of days, so get started.”
“You’re telling me what to do?”
“Think of it as peer-group leadership, where I’m inviting your input.”
“Ease up on that bloody social worker talk, will you? I’ll see what I can do, but I hope you understand I’m not a policeman any more.”
“Gavin di Gianvincenzo isn’t a policeman. I’ll bet he could get hold of the records.”
“Bugger it, Quinlivin. I’ll…Ill see what I can scare up.”
Dibs was back the next day. When he arrived, a venerable 80s computer was sitting on the bench, almost assembled.
Dessie Saleh was still fiddling with a part while the two others looked on.
“I…I’ll have to change a contact…”
“Nuh, couple of minutes.”
While they waited, Quinlivin sipped on his tea and Dibs on his now customary tumbler of wine. The old policeman was wide-eyed at the speed and deftness with which the little Ghan assembled and disassembled. Quinlivin gave him a satisfied wink. At last:
“It’s ready, Quin. One of these discs runs the system, by the look of it. Just have to hope it’s not corrupt. I’ll boot up – if I can.”
Soon the screen was blinking with many green letters and numbers.
“It’s a funny one, Quin. There nothing to say what kind of system, but it’s a system.”
“Okay, try the other discs.”
Dessie tried each disc.
“Nothing. They’re all just old games. Space Attack, Burger Muncher…A few memories there, Quin.”
Quinlivin shook his head.
“Dessie, let me try. Turn it all off and I’ll boot up again.”
Quinlivin sat and stared at the brightening screen as it rebooted.
“Dessie, why does it flash up this funny message on startup? It says…Bugger, it’s gone. Something about ‘Watson’. Why would that flash on a screen at startup? I’ll boot up again.”
Again he turned the computer off and started it again. The word’s flashed up and this time he read them carefully:
“‘Mr. Watson – Come here – I want to see you.’ Dessie, what does that mean on startup?”
“No idea, Quin. Usually you get system name and stuff. I don’t know why it says that.”
Quin ruminated: “‘Mr. Watson – Come here – I want to see you.’ What do you make of it Dibs?”
“Mate…me and computers…you may as well be talking Chinese…”
“So, Dessie, how does it run? Different to any other old system?”
“No, Quin. It runs just like ACOS, the main PC system of the day. It has to be ACOS. These games were typical games that ran on ACOS thirty years ago. It’s weird that there’s none of that proprietary stuff flashing up on boot…First time I’ve seen that…but that’s the only odd thing. Maybe hackers…pirates…Can’t see it affects anything much.”
“So, there’s nothing else here, on any of the discs? No? Looks like case closed, Dibs. Unless we can get a look at the Eastermans’ phone records…”
Dibs tossed a bundle of papers he drew from his coat pocket on to the bench.
“Already got them. Private line and two mobiles. One of the mobiles must have been Sharon’s, though it’s not in her name. Two years worth. Can’t get the internet records yet.”
“And you’ve added a tidy list of the individual numbers with total calls to each. Chrono order and then numerical order. That should speed things up. Dibs, you’re not the average Constable Plod!”
“I’ve got a mate or two left in the upper echelons. So have a read through that lot. I’ve already checked, but you might see something with fresh eyes.”
Quinlivin spent much time reading. Then finally:
“Hmm…all stuff you might expect…good that most of the parties are named…some good work here, Dibs…but nothing for us…except…”
Quinlivin paused. They waited.
“Dibs, why would a law office in Portland, Oregon call? They called Easterman once. They received no calls back.”
“Well, hundreds of reasons. He might have had a mate just using their phone. They might have been trying to contact a sanatorium customer. Anything, really.”
“Hmm….it would have been late at night on the West Coast of the US…But you’re right. It’s nothing. Just the only oddity in the whole lot. If the husband was communicating with anyone unusual he was not using his own phones to do it…Let’s see these must be the wife’s records…Hmmm…Her phone was in the business name but these are obviously her calls…Your number’s here…Nothing else that stands out. Sharon Easterman was an infrequent caller to a small circle of acquaintances…In short, nothing. There’s nothing on the computer discs and nothing here in phone records, Dibs.”
“Clutching at straws, I know. Still, I appreciate the help. Yours too, Dessie. Since we’ve all got time on our hands, I suppose it was worth a burl.”
For the first time in his life, Dessie Saleh smiled at a policeman.
“Dibs, I’ll let you know any ideas that occur to me. Onekeeps running round in my head: those words: ‘Mr. Watson – Come here – I want to see you.’ I’ve heard or read them, somewhere. Not likely to mean much, of course…”
“Sherlock Holmes? That Watson?”
“No, not that. But something. Something rings a bell for me…
“Not that it matters.”
That night, in the modest but cunningly accoutred cell he shared with Dessie Saleh, Quinlivin was not doing his usual intensive reading. He had been lying on his back for some time, staring above, and repeating: ‘Mr. Watson – Come here – I want to see you.’
At last, Dessie had heard it enough times.
“Quin…does this have a point. All a bit much, mate.”
“Can’t get it out of my head. Wish I could google it…’Mr. Watson – Come here – I want to see you.’…”
“When you memorised Wisden aloud, it was at least a bit interesting.”
“Sorry. Those words…they chimed. Why did they chime, Dessie? To do with all those phone records? They rang a bell somehow. They rang…telephone…”
Quinlivin raised himself up from his bed to a seating position and stared at Dessie, his mouth open. Dessie waited for him to speak, but the other just continued to stare, blink, gape.
“Ssh. I’m having that cliche moment where the sleuth…”
A full minute passed before he spoke again:
“Oregon…headquarters of Allsoft…Dessie, I think I know. I do know, Dessie.”
“Dessie…I need to see a guard…need a phone…Quick, fifty should do it, if you’ve got it on you.”
“Who’s this? It’s nine o’clock at night!”
“Dibs, it’s me, Quin.”
“How did you get a phone at this hour?”
“Had to pay. My regular guard smashed his jaw at the surf comp. Dibs, listen!”
“Can’t this wait till morning?”
“Just listen. I need you to get the Australian Feds to get the Yank Feds or whoever to find out about what went on between that Portland law firm and the Eastermans. Also, we need to know what dealings the firm had with Allsoft or any legal representatives of Allsoft, for the last thirty years. Make it forty years.”
“That’s insane, just for a start, and also impossible. Apart from that, a terrific plan.”
“Just do it. Even if you have to involve Gav di Gianvincenzo.”
“It’s not like fishing – you can actually do this. You’re great at this.”
“I’d have to call in every favour…”
“Then call in every favour!”
“I’m retired, Quinlivin. Retired!”
“Dibs! Are you going to spend your future time as Australia’s most incompetent fisherman or or you going to follow your destiny?”
“Oh, bugger it…I’ll give it a go. But lay off how I fish…”
“Good. Try and get your Fed mates to push hard on the Portland people. Now, there’s something else. If a document or documents have been handled in some office on the Gold Coast by Sharon Easterman – right around the time she rang you from there – secure those documents, plus folders and everything related for fingerprints, handwriting, and even DNA analysis if needed. I’m guessing that the offices will be legal offices, probably those of Easterman’s lawyers, less likely those of Allsoft’s lawyers. Move fast.”
“Quin, Sharon didn’t do anything but shop on the Corso that day. I’m pretty sure she would have mentioned it if she’d been to see lawyers with Easterman. And I can’t just commandeer legal or business documents…”
“You can if the Portland lawyers co-operate and tell us the nature of their dealings with Easterman. What they need to tell us won’t breach client confidentiality. All we need to know is if they have a certain client. If this is what I think it is…Dibs, this is big.”
“The biggest. Ben Hur big. Plus Quo Vadis.”
“How do you know?”
“Something rang a bell, Dibs. Not just an ordinary bell. An Alexander Graham Bell.”
“So, Dibs, you said on the phone you’d caught a fish at last.”
“Flathead. Longer than your leg. Well, longer than Dessie’s leg. Caught it on a spinner, just doing a drift over those reeds by the lagoon entrance.”
Quin and Dessie exchanged skeptical looks.
“I suppose a fresh flattie that size is always good eating…”
“You didn’t eat it?”
“Um, catch and release?”
“Well, sort of. No. Not exactly. Look here, Quinlivin, I’m not giving you a blow by blow for every time I cast out a line…”
“Didn’t land it, eh?”
“Well, I was on my bloody own and couldn’t reel and gaff at the same time, so I…”
Quin and Dessie exchanged quick grins, but the dark look on Dibs’ face extinguished their amusement. It was that expression old style senior coppers wore just before hitting suspects with phone books.
There was one of those long poker silences which was always longer when they had much to discuss. Finally Dibs, over his sulk:
“I think it’ll be in the news.”
“What? The flattie as long as Dessie’s leg which you almost gaffed and almost…”
“Christ! Ease up about me and how I fish! Ease up or I’ll…Bugger it, Quinlivin! You know what I’m referring to. Easterman’s arrest, along with his girlfriend. It’ll be in the news for sure. Especially with an old soapie star involved.”
“Not for murder, unfortunately.”
“No, that would take some proving. Whoever did the killing and removed the computer is probably back in Asia, waiting in a dumpling shop for his next contract. But there’ll be the odd ton of legal bricks they can drop on the pair. Lots of felonies in two countries…”
“So long as they leave us out of it, Dibs.”
“They will. And me too. I’ve never been one of those coppers who loves to see his face on the news. That stupid concerned look they plaster across their dials…like they don’t see mess and mayhem every day…”
After some deliberate sipping on his favoured prison wine, Dibs – who hated to be impressed – grunted:
“So, how did you know? Or guess?”
“I’ll get to that. But Dessie’s been on work release, helping out at the old Philipson stables. He just got back. Let’s fill him in on what happened from the very start, which was the phone call from Portland. You are wondering about all that, aren’t you Dessie? All you old cameleers love a yarn.”
“I wouldn’t mind getting it all straight from the beginning, Quin. But also those words: you know, the words on the computer screen you kept saying over…”
“I’ll get to that. But let’s go back to the time after Easterman received the lucky call from Portland.
“After making hurried arrangements, Easterman drove his wife all the way to the Gold Coast – nobody in Queensland knew her – to meet with various lawyers and with Allsoft’s Brisbane management. But he took his real wife only as far as the Gold Coast and the Shelton Resort, where her presence was registered. When he walked into those Cavill Avenue offices – the offices of his own lawyers – he took a woman dressed as his wife, walking and talking like his wife. He took an actress who had not been seen on the screen for years, heavily made up, suitably vulnerable and neurotically dependent on Gregor Easterman. It was so easy for Easterman to then dominate negotiations while he held his stage wife’s limp hand and she looked overwhelmed.
“While his real wife was shopping a mile away, Julia Jonas signed the papers meant to make Sharon Easterman one of the richest women in Australia, though a whole lot of complex legals would still need to be finalised.
“How did Gregor Easterman keep the sting going for months afterward? Well, because Sharon, like a lot of people who come and go these days, didn’t use the landline in her flat, and because her mobile was registered to the sanatorium business, not to herself, nobody outside her circle of friends knew her number. She’d only ever used the internet at the sanatorium, or on the mobile registered to it.
“So much was luck, but rest was crafty. Easterman set up new mobile and landline accounts for the pretend Sharon, and gave out the numbers to those connected with the Allsoft matter. We never saw those accounts because he’d been careful to set up a shelf company just for them. At the other ends of those lines: Julia Jonas. Whether by phone or in those Gold Coast offices, whenever someone connected with the Allsoft matter thought they had talked with Sharon, they had actually talked with Julia Jonas. When correspondence was sent to Sharon, it was sent to Easterman as her representative or to a Port Tench PO Box controlled by Easterman.”
“But why involve the other woman, Quin? Why not get rid of his wife before she could learn what she was worth?”
“If he disposed of his wife quickly after that call from Portland there would be too much suspicion. Also, a man separated from his wife before she died would be in a weak position when facing the might of Allsoft. But the biggest problem was that his pre-nup, designed to protect him from Sharon’s poverty, was now working against him. With Sharon dead, the money would not come through for quite some time, and Allsoft could easily decide not to pay him and to litigate. In fact, that was certain. They play with a hard ball to stay number one, do Allsoft.
“No! Gregor Easterman needed to be clearly established as Sharon’s adviser, manager, executor and beneficiary by rock solid legal arrangements, and those arrangements were made that day on the Gold Coast with numerous lawyers and with Allsoft, during the same meeting in which Sharon’s preliminary agreements with Allsoft were sketched out. An elaborate play, with Julia Jonas in her best paid role. This Gold Coast charade was essential. Fortunately for our enquiries, the prints left on the documents and plastic folder were those of Julia Jonas. That was just as well, because Julia had done quite a good job on Sharon’s signature.
“Easterman knew he couldn’t manipulate his wife any more. With so many millions at stake, he needed her dead. He had to stay married to her for a decent period after his legal position was established, whether or not they lived together. Julia Jonas, as Sharon, had insisted on confidentiality, secrecy, privacy and no intrusions on her quiet lifestyle, so people like me would not be too suspicious when Sharon’s potential wealth was revealed at probate. Easterman could easily argue that neither of them was ever at liberty to discuss Sharon’s position with friends or other parties. He knew the real Sharon wouldn’t, since the real Sharon never knew a bloody thing!
“A fair summary, Dibs?”
“Fair enough. So tell us what set you off. And what’s this story about some software of the brother’s only becoming valuable after his death and the sister’s disappearance? That’s the bit nobody’s explained to me…but I don’t really get computers. My mate in the Feds mentioned something about a cheap little licencing deal, all done by mail through a firm in Portland, which turned into a goldmine on top of a diamond mine. Did it have something to do with the old computer that went missing? With those discs I found?”
“Okay, this is the part I really like, where I’m lying on a bed annoying Dessie by mumbling, over and over: ‘Mr. Watson – Come here – I want to see you.’ We’d been talking about phones, had we not? Those words…and telephones…
“And then I remember…
“‘Mr. Watson – Come here – I want to see you.’…Those were the first words ever spoken into a telephone – by the man who invented the telephone. He spoke them to a man called Watson, who was in another room. Following me?”
“Dessie, you thought the system on the brother’s old disc was Allsoft ACOS, the most used system in the world for ten years, then the base of other systems for two decades after that.”
“I’d still swear it was ACOS. Those games, for starters, could only run on ACOS.”
“Dessie, that operating disc carried the words of Alexander Graham Bell because those were the first words used on a world changing invention. The brother knew the importance of the software he’d written, if nobody else did. Those words were his own tribute to what he had made, something which had yet to be given a name. He put those words on his own copies of his own work. But he later described his software very exactly to his Oregon legal representatives whom he’d contracted by mail, specialists in IT when lawyers in Oz hardly knew what IT meant. He also detailed the software’s use, destination and projected commercial name. The brother died, and his sole beneficiary was uncontactable, long before the value of his work was realised. He became a dusty, forgotten, seemingly defunct file, which only came to light because someone was housekeeping ahead of a merger.
“You see, no company or corporation, however gigantic, has ever owned ACOS.
“Sharon’s brother, Peter Conlon, wasn’t using Allsoft’s system…
“They were using his system!”