Once again the three unlikeliest of friends had assembled in that unlikeliest of places, a prison winery run by the most hunted criminal in the state’s history.
As Don Dibble grew warmer with the wine and the two convicts sipped on their tea, the subject had drifted to the bond between them, a bond which extended to certain others, living and deceased. Quinlivin was saying:
“Now we know each other a bit better I suppose we can judge. What about our mutual friend, Gavin di Gianvincenzo? While it’s old Clive McGroder who brought us together, I feel Gav is one of us. I sometimes feel he’s with us. He has a way of hovering in my conscious…even in what slight conscience I have…”
“He has that effect on a lot of people, believe me. In fact, I could tell you a story…But I’ll let him tell his own stories. I still can’t believe you know him, Quin. Don’t get me wrong, but Gav’s standards are sky-high, and you’re a bloody crim. A major one at that.”
“Let’s just say Gav’s a finisher. Finishers need other finishers – with specialties – in order to, well, finish. If you get what I mean.”
“I suppose I do. But you and Gav…I dunno…”
“I’ll let him explain the connections we’ve made. That’s if he wants to.”
“You know he takes his holidays down in the Haven? I suppose I’ll see him often now. Maybe he’ll visit you, Quin, since you know him so well.”
“It’s booked in, some time during his kids’ mid-year break. We can all get together here…”
“You’re able to run a NSW prison as your personal social club? A bloody crim who’d be in Supermax in the normal run of things. I dunno…In my day…No offence, Quin, but…”
“Get over it, Dibs. Someone has to run this place to a satisfactory standard. Anyway, on the subject of a little get together, we’d be quite a mix. You, a retired chief inspector; Dessie, the upright serial killer; me, the only real rogue of the group; and the relentless Gavin di Gianvincenzo, the insurance industry’s avenging angel. How’s that for a mix? But let’s talk about you, Dibs. We’ve worked out that all of us are extreme characters, right? That’s what we have in common. For example, Dessie here would hunt someone who hurt his family as far as Antarctica, and wait in a snow cave for twenty years if he had to…just sharpening that big Afghan’s knife of his…Dessie, don’t blush now. You would, wouldn’t you, Dessie?”
“I’d run out of tucker, Quin.”
“Oh, come on, Dessie. We all know you’d gnaw on your own leg if family was involved…But what’s your extreme, Dibs? Something you shared with old Clive?”
Dibs took a sip and thought, then began to nod.
“Old Clive had more patience than anyone else. We know that. He’s the man who caught Quinlivin twice, isn’t he? His patience beat your brilliance…
“But no, with me it’s not patience, Quin. It’s sort of the opposite with me. It’s more an impatience to learn, a craving to learn. Until I’m curious about a subject I’m as thick as two planks, a cow in a paddock. But once get me curious and I’m not just thorough. I’m tormented…I…I’m…What’s the word?”
“A fusspot? Yeah. And that’s maybe why I’ve had my best success with fusspot crims. I’m one of them, but they have no way of knowing it by looking at me. All they see is a big dopey copper who started life as a big dopey prop representing Combined High Schools then went on to be a big dopey prop for Newtown lower grades…
“Oh, I know how I come across: old style bull who’d belt you with a phonebook as soon as say g’day. But I’m a fusspot, first and foremost. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not some southern hemisphere version of Poirot. No bloody way. I don’t deduce cold. I can’t. I’m thorough, that’s for sure, but not smart or observant enough for cold deduction. No good with logic, sums and all that…
“I have to get absorbed in what absorbs you, I have to let you suck me into your orbit. Then, very briefly, I’m smart and in charge. Then I’ve got you!”
“I don’t really see…the difference…”
Dessie, still timid around a hulking chief inspector, could not finish what he was saying.
“Nah, I don’t suppose I’m explaining myself too well, Dessie. So let me give you an example.”
That evening Peter Vaughan had chosen the Opus 74 Quartets – performed by the Auryn, naturally – as music to tinker by. Anyone who appreciated the sound which filled the house might have asked how there was that extra warmth about it. Peter Vaughan would have been happy to tell them of his cunning ways with stereo, rigging the best of old analog with the best of latest digital.
But there was nobody to ask such questions. Peter was alone in his trim Corrawang Valley bungalow of local stone, set just far enough into the bush to be out of sight and earshot of the two neighbouring homes, both costly, thrusting 1990s constructions of corrugated iron, timber slats and much glass. Each to his taste!
For all the money Peter Vaughan had made, nobody had ever said he had more money than sense – or taste. Having chosen the original homestead for his own weekender he had been careful to preserve its best features without putting them on glaring display. What was the point of an old country home which could not nestle comfortably amid its venerable liquidambers and bull magnolias, with the gums safely distant but still in view from the north facing alcoves?
When he successfully subdivided the valley at the right moment, he had a notion that the neighbours would be a little strenuous, so to speak, in their architectural choices. But since Corrawang Valley was the last of those hour-from-Sydney retreats to be developed for prime weekenders, its buyers had been mostly younger money, as Peter Vaughan put it so kindly, when he might have said nouveau money. Peter never insulted a customer, even long after the transaction.
Did any of it matter? He had another nice home and a nice corporate and personal profit to show from “another deft PV coup”, to quote Heather Golightly-Mingus, the Sydney Morning Herald’s property editor. Once you get those hyphenated ladies on side! People were even starting to use his surname, Vaughan, to refer to the vast company he headed, Trumble Holdings and Developments.
That evening, as Peter listened and even hummed along to his almost-favourite Haydn, he would attend to his new private purchases, cataloguing, admiring, fussing, before placing most of them in a locked display cabinet. A few of the less expensive pieces could be left out, as decor and conversation pieces. Some rougher pieces might even see service.
Peter handled the packages from France with his usual extreme care and with white-gloved hands. The first to be opened was a selection of cutlery from an estate sale in the Auvergne…
While not given to expressions of awe, his mouth and eyes widened at the sight of the ancient pieces which had been forged over a century before but most of which had clearly seen no use at all. A real score! He fondled several slightly worn work knives and set them aside for practical use, since he loved to cook with traditional implements. A dark patina on an old blade of Thiers, not some gaudy new Japanese Damascus, was his inspiration in the kitchen.
It happened without sound.
A powerful arm was around his upper chest and neck.
A hand much larger than his own grasped a paring knife he had just laid aside for kitchen use and then its point was on his carotid artery.
A deep, calm voice.
“You know who this is.”
The arm tightened round his neck.
“I asked if you know who this is.”
“That’s right. Now I want you to take your phone from the table there and send me a text message.”
“I know you’ve got my number there. Dial it and send me a text message inviting me round to your house if I’m in the area. Which I am. Obviously.”
“Peter, am I going to have to hurt you? You know I know how. I am to pain what you are to wine tasting and boring music. Now, are you going to send me that message?”
Peter Vaughan did as he was told. Soon the other man’s phone beeped and he checked it after placing down the knife but without relaxing his grip.
“That’s fine, Peter. Now we can talk.”
The man called George let go, ambled to the other side of the table and sat down with an ironic sigh of satisfaction.
He was the opposite of the fine-featured, stooped and bespectacled Peter Vaughan. George Framling was the model of a blonde, square-featured military type – which explained the one minor movie role the ex-stuntman had managed to secure.
“I think I should start the conversation, don’t you think? Me being the big muscly intruder and so on?”
“Now, I’m here on your wife’s behalf to discuss certain arrangements with company shares. Specifically, how you’re going to relinquish your majority holding…”
“Sure. You’re going to leave Trumble holdings in the hands of the Sky Vaughan, nee Trumble.”
“George, what’s the point of that? You know Sky is…well, incapable due to medical problems.”
“You mean the booze and pills you drove her to?”
“Well, the causes are a matter of opinion. But substances are her big problem, no question. And the fact that she’s never had to work a day in her life. With me in control we both have shares in a successful operation.”
“But with me, her future husband, in control?”
“You! An ex-stuntman who lived off an accident pay-out for something he did to himself. I’ve looked into your record. A would-be actor and discharged corporal reduced to patrolling in the Solomons…”
“Don’t say anything unkind, Peter. Or I’ll have to walk back round the table.”
“No, but, George, the very idea…I mean, if you and Sky want more money, fine. But to kill the goose! You surely don’t think that you can run Trumble Holdings.”
“You got your start marrying Sky Trumble. I intend to start the same way. And I actually love the woman.”
“I worked bloody hard and well for old Sir Ken…and for his daughter! What’s more I loved her too. I’m not pretending things didn’t go sour and much of it may have been due to me and my ways…”
“What woman can stay sane with a bloke who won’t use a toothbrush unless it’s made with the bristles from some Italian pig?”
“Now you’re exaggerating.”
“Not much. Anyway, she needs a ridgy-didge man and I’m that man.”
“Look, George, this is all stuff for lawyers. Whatever happens, she’ll have money. Which means you’ll have money. You’ll be able to finance that cage fighter movie you’ve been wanting to do, the one you approached me about. In fact, I was tempted…”
“I don’t believe you and neither does Sky. We know what you’ll do with control of the company, how you can skim and syphon…”
“Christ, George, if I was as bad as that would I have left her in the best beach house on the coast? You’re probably living there now. There’s been no divorce yet and I’ve already relinquished…”
“Window dressing. Just window dressing. You’re conceding stuff you knew you’d eventually have to concede in any case. You’re building a case where you look like the nice accommodating hubbie. And soon three generations of Trumble money and assets will all be yours. We know how clever you are. I’m here tonight – after your kind invitation – to tell you how dead you are if you push ahead with keeping control of the company.”
“That’s right, Peter. Tonight is about letting you know how easy it is to kill. What do you think I was doing for the Solomons government? You might be dead right now, but, you know me, Mr. Nice Guy. By the way, it doesn’t have to be me in person. I’ve got friends in the Angelitos, not to mention old Solomons buddies. You push ahead with trying to take Trumble Holdings from the last Trumble and you’ll be dead. This is my speciality. This is what I know about and what you know nothing about. It’s called killing. I should add that we don’t kill quick. We have to mix in a punitive element, for professional reasons. Helps to concentrate the mind. Remember what happened to so-and-so, they didn’t do him quick, and all that. How are you with pain, Peter? Maybe you once dropped a library book on your toe. How did you handle that?”
“This has become a police matter, George. I’m willing to forget this stunt but…”
“What stunt? You invited me to pop in for a drink and here I am. Nobody is going to know what time I arrived because nobody saw me arriving. What have I done but chat, listen to some tortured-cat music and inspect your antique steak knives?
“No, Peter, there won’t be any threats or complaints from us. It’s simple: push ahead and wake up dead. Leave alone and we leave you alone. Keep some shares and dough, by all means. Maybe this house. Let the lawyers talk about that. But forget, forget right now, about controlling Trumble. It’s over. Choose life, Peter.
George Framling had visited Hong Kong briefly, to do stunts for a movie that was cancelled. He had returned to Australia broke.
On this second visit it was all so different. He was riding in a Mercedes through the swarming streets of Kowloon, with his own driver and own personal assistant for the day. The Deng Brothers knew how to look after the talent!
He asked Oxide Chow, the groomed young man beside him:
“So…Denis Deng wants a meeting straight away? Shouldn’t I check in at the hotel first, just to freshen up?”
“Hotel? You didn’t book a hotel, did you? Mr. Framling, I was very clear when I rang you confidentially on behalf of the Deng Brothers…”
“No, no bookings. I did just as you asked, Oxide. Picked up the tickets at Kingsford Smith and just got on the flight. Thanks for First Class, by the way. Only my partner knows I’m out of the country – I think we agreed she should know – but nobody else. Everything is under wraps.”
“Good. The Dengs don’t want anybody talking about new productions till the money is in and the cameras are rolling. Especially a production this big. We love your script and we’re pretty sure you’ll be perfect for the role of the European bad guy. It’s looking good, but the Dengs want you to meet them and the investors before anyone says a word about a new Deng production on this scale.”
“Well, I may be in a position to invest myself soon. That’s something you need to keep quiet, but it’s a possibility…”
“Really? Better and better, then.”
Framling leaned forward and spoke to the driver through the open interior window.
“You’re Korean, aren’t you?”
The bulky man smiled as he turned his head slightly while keeping his eyes on the intricate Hong Kong traffic.
“Yes, Korean, me. How you know that?”
“Oh, lots of Tae Kwan Do. I’ve met a lot of Koreans through the sport.”
The driver emitted a strained laugh.
“That good. That very good. You know Korea people is good.”
A few minutes further on the car swerved into a lane and stopped by what looked like a fire-exit from an old building. The young PA explained.
“We just need to do a stop here to pick up some of the Deng security staff. Denis wants them to arrive with you so we look like a big entourage to the investors. You know how the Cantonese are about these things…”
George Framling did not know, but he agreed anyway.
Two very big men in suits emerged from the doorway. One got in the front with the driver, the other got in the back on Framling’s side, wedging him in the middle of the seat – to his slight discomfort.
The new arrivals smiled and nodded awkwardly as the car took off again.
As they drove along Framling took a glance at the new passenger beside him. Then he leaned forward and briefly scanned the passenger in the front.
“You…you two gentlemen are also Koreans, aren’t you?”
A vague grunt from the big man beside him.
For no real reason, George Framling found himself studying the car doors, wondering if the loud clunk he had heard on leaving the lane meant those doors were well and truly – and centrally – locked.
The two men were sitting out on the verandah, seemingly just taking in the first mild spring night. In the glow from the French window behind them they could observe early bulbs thrusting up through a stretch of soft lawn, left deliberately long. A magnolia which had drooped a stray branch downward had fat, purple, wooly buds.
Like the house, the grounds had order without rigidity.
Each of the men had his cup of tea.
“You know, Mr. Vaughan…”
“Oh, call me Peter, Chief Inspector. This is your third or fourth visit. By Corrawang Valley standards that makes you an old acquaintance.”
“You know…Peter…the first time you served me tea like this I thought it was a bloody miracle. My late wife, Gwenny, she knew her way around a teapot, but I’d never tasted anything like what you can brew. It’s like…I dunno…”
“Malty is the usual description. It’s a matter of knowing which Assam is best for a milk and one sugar man like yourself, then brewing it just right. I favour a Mokalbari second flush, not too buddy or fussy, just a modest amount of leaf in the pot, plenty of heat for about four minutes, then pour off fast. One gets the hang. It’s worth it, I think, that little extra effort.”
“Mmm, it certainly is worth it. You don’t do anything half-arsed, do you, Peter? Excuse the French…and I do mean that in a good way.”
“Well, why not take a tiny bit of trouble with things. Get them right. It’s almost as easy as getting things wrong, and life goes so much better, don’t you think?”
“Somehow it’s not as easy for the rest of us…You know, when you showed me your collection of old Alvey fishing reels, it really got me thinking about how much thought and craft can go into making things we just discard or forget about.”
“Not every old device was a good idea, Chief Inspector. But there have been some marvels made from wood and bakelite which just require a bit of our love and an open mind. An old Australian Alvey is like an old cast iron skillet of the right sort, perfectly seasoned. You only have to think a bit and care a bit and it outperforms anything made since, using all the technology available. I don’t love certain things because they’re old, you know. I love them because they represent a pinnacle. You can always make things more convenient, but sometimes you can’t improve on function.”
“Ah, that’s so true, so true…Remember how we got to discussing your collection of Alveys?”
“Sadly, I do.”
“You know, I had to question you about where you were on the night your wife was…”
“Of course. It’s your job. I understood then, as upset as I was. And I understand now.”
“I know it all seemed unnecessary. The only vehicle marks or footprints anywhere on the approach to the beach house were from George Framling. His prints and nobody else’s were on the knife and he’d disappeared to Hong Kong that night.”
“Is he still ‘disappeared’, Chief Inspector?”
“Yep. A bloke like that, an ex-paramilitary, he’s probably got a job burning down villages somewhere or other. But I still don’t quite get his motive. Judging by his intention to marry your wife after the divorce…”
“I quite agree. No motive.”
“But if he was a violent or jealous type…Or if your wife was changing her mind about him…”
“Maybe. I wouldn’t know. I can understand a man loving my wife. I certainly did love her. Really, I don’t want to reflect on motives. It seems he did it, as you say. I can’t forgive him, but I can’t hate him either. Maybe because I understand how strongly he felt about Sky. The failure of my marriage is the greatest regret I have.”
“You know…we have had to delve a bit more since…because, well, you know…”
“Of course. The great beneficiary from my wife’s death and Framling’s departure is me. I know that, and I know what people might suspect: that I paid Framling. All of that has to be put to rest.”
“It’s not as dire as that, Peter. We’ve checked around and it’s pretty clear that Framling had his eye on marrying your wife and getting control of Trumble Holdings. A man doesn’t just turn himself into an international fugitive after leaving a blatant trail of evidence of murder. Not when he stands to gain more from a respectable marriage with a very attractive heiress. No, we don’t think you were in cahoots with Framling.”
“But you have to check.”
“We have to check.”
They sipped on their tea.
“You know, Peter, I have a confession to make.”
“When you told me where you were that night – fishing along Three Mile – and how you caught enough fish to impress the locals…”
“I wouldn’t say impress…”
“Well, we checked with a couple of them and they said they were impressed.”
“Is that your confession?”
“No. When I told you I was a fisherman, I was lying, in a way. You know I was raised in the Haven, still take holidays there, and I can see myself retiring there soon.”
“You must be a fisherman!”
“Here’s the thing: there’s a sort of standing joke where I come from. Blokes in pubs around the Haven talk about Dibble Days and Dibble Nights. They’re referring to times they caught nothing. Really, I don’t know why I’m like this…but when I told you I was a fisherman…well…I thought of how loud they’d all laugh down in the Haven if they heard me big-noting to a bloke like you. A bloke who can really fish.”
“Well, I’m sure when you get time in retirement…”
“Nuh. I’m a dud fisherman and I know it. But I can still get fired up by someone else’s good catch. When they told me about how you fished the gutters along Three Mile right through the run-out, then went out to the point on the low tide, I thought: there’s an artist. Apparently it was a very low tide…”
“It was, now you mention it.”
“In fact, I got so interested I checked. It was the lowest tide of the year. Something to do with a supermoon.”
“Well, I didn’t get much for my trouble. Most of the good fish I got earlier off the beach.”
“But then I got to thinking, how if that tide was so low that a man could scoot round Three Mile Head? Then he’d only have to hurry across Boulder Beach, never anybody there at night, get round Cabbage Point, then walk over Trig Hill…”
“And he’d be at the beach house!”
“In maybe half an hour, if he was good on his feet. Time to get back on the slack tide. It was just something that popped into my head, Peter. I hope you don’t think…”
“Why shouldn’t you think about those things? I haven’t tried it, but I can see how someone could get to the beach house that way. On maybe one night of the year. I’m impressed you’d even think about it. Certainly not offended.”
“Well, I doubt I would have thought about it, but for a couple of other things. You know Framling left the house without eight thousand dollars cash which was in your late wife’s handbag?”
“Mmm, yes. That was mentioned. But I suppose with a lot of emotion and no planning…”
“Ah, but there was some planning. Remember his air ticket?”
“Paid in cash, they said.”
“Yes, but paid that afternoon.”
“So if a man knows he’s about to skip the country, why does he leave eight thou lying?”
“Maybe he was planning to leave the country, but not to kill Sky. One thing was planned, the other not.”
“Exactly. But if you asked me what got me thinking extra hard about the possibility of somebody else being the killer – somebody approaching from the sea in the most unexpected way – then I suppose it was that cash left lying. Not to mention a lot of very valuable jewelry. Look, don’t mind me, Peter. It was your fishing expertise shown on the night that got me connecting stuff in the craziest ways. I’m like that. Just don’t mind me. My Gwenny used to say I was born with an invisible bonnet full of invisible bees. Once a things starts to fascinate me…”
“Don’t explain. I’m a bit that way myself. And I can certainly see why you’re a senior detective with such a high reputation. More tea?”
“Well, I won’t say no.”
Peter Vaughan went inside. A few minutes later he was back with a fresh pot of tea.
“This time I’ve brewed up some Halmari second flush. See if you can taste a difference. Want me to pour a cup for your man in there?”
“Nah, he’s young and keen. Let the young work, I always say. I’ve told him no mess, by the way.”
“Thanks for that, but I’m learning there’s always mess when police rummage through your stuff. Is there anything he’s been told to look for apart from evidence of contact with Framling?”
“I don’t know what, really. I’m kind of going cool on the whole case, to be honest. But with George Framling a missing person we have to check out every lead.”
“Like I said, I invited Framling here once when Sky was just too out of it with pills and booze. I wanted to discuss her welfare with him, possibility of rehab again and so on. Also, whether or not it sounds callous, I needed to explain to him that Sky would have more money and help if I was in control of Trumble. They had some idea that if I was off the scene they would be rolling in it. Truth is, they would have been rolling in debt and disaster within a year. The company could not be run by two spoiled kids who think they’ve inherited a bottomless lolly shop. I had to get that across, politely…
“But George Framling never came. The only time I met him was early in the piece when he approached me after he became Sky’s driver…or whatever he was for her. He wanted me, or Trumble, to fund a cage-fighter movie starring Jason Lo and himself. I was very polite in saying no, for Sky’s sake. That was the full nature of our dealings.”
Dibs took a long sip of tea, followed by a satisfied “ah”.
“Mmm, this one’s more…what’s the word?”
“I’d say more flowery. It’s a tea with more buds, so I choke back the brewing temp a bit, pour it off a bit short of four minutes.”
“Look, Peter, I know I come across as big old style walloper, but I really do appreciate you showing me all these lovely things. Your wines, your teas, your Alveys, your knives. A bloke like you…I dunno…I really can see why you feel entitled to head up a great old firm like Trumble. I remember thinking what a pity it was when spivs got control companies like Adsteam back in the 80s…”
“I wouldn’t say I feel entitled, Chief Inspector. But it’s fair to say I put the same care into running a business as I did into brewing that pot of tea. More, maybe. I’m aware of the market and bottom line and all that. But I also think a business is flesh and blood. My employees and suppliers aren’t just numbers. They’re flesh and blood, just like the customers. I also believe in tending a business like a garden, not over-fertilising or rape-harvesting for the sake of some annual bottom line. Maybe I’ve been good for Trumble. Old Sir Ken thought so. Sky thought so, before the substance problems and so on.”
Dibs took another contented swig on his cup, sighed, and stared out into the night. Then:
“Values. That’s what it comes down to.”
“Yes. That about sums it up. But I can see you take a similar approach to your work, Chief Inspector.”
“Well, I try. To tell you the truth, when I’m around dills I’m a bit of a dill myself. But around someone like you…I dunno…I seem to lift. Like when you showed me your collection of knives. I’d never thought of a kitchen knife as anything but…well, something for cutting or poking. My Gwen understood more about things like that, but till you showed me all those old beauties of yours it never occurred to me that there was so much in an old knife.”
“Ah, but there is. I’ve even travelled to places in Europe like Solingen, Ekilstuna and especially Thiers, just looking and learning.”
“Is that where you buy?”
“Not really. A great old knife can show up anywhere in the world, even on ebay in the middle of Kansas. You can never tell. I concentrate on the best French carbon steel which is hallmarked, otherwise I’d be collecting forever.”
“The knife which was used on your wife…did you get a good look at it?”
“Just photos. It was just too sickening for me to look for long.”
“It was French, you know. And old. Very worn in places, but quite useable.”
“Well, there are thousands of old Sabatier knives lying around in drawers. Sky had one or two at the beach house. Even Framling might have his own from his mother. Very common after the 1960s. Bit of a fad. Now the fad is for Japanese Damascus.”
“It’s just that after our talk last time I couldn’t get it out of my mind. French knives, hallmarks and so on. So I did some extra checking. Got one of our techs with a special microscope to send the murder weapon off to some place in Melbourne where they’ve got even better microscopes…”
“Well, that’s really doing your job. Good for you.”
“It’s all really thanks to you, Peter. You’re the one who got me thinking along refined lines.”
“So how did it go, your check on the old knife?”
“Yeah. Obviously there was all the blood on the blade, but it turns out the blade was a pretty good one. Lots of fancy forging. There was an almost faded hallmark that said…let me think…it said…Vile…or Veel-something.”
“Vilebrequin? With a mark of an old hand drill?”
“Hmm, nice old knives. Made in Thiers. Lovely rivet work on the handles. And often forged perfectly, depending on who was forging on the day. I’ll bet a knife like that would be old though.”
“This one was very old. You know how we wondered why there was no blood on the handle?”
“Not really. Does that signify much?”
“Well, Framling was a professional of sorts. Of the wrong sort. It didn’t surprise us that he knew how to kill with the least splatter…sorry if that upsets you…”
“It does upset me, Chief Inspector. But you have a job to do.”
“The handle was interesting in other ways. It seems that the very best old knives are restored by gloved experts massaging lemon oil into their handles after very light cleaning. After which there is no more contact till the customer touches the piece. Which you’d know, of course.”
“That’s a common enough procedure. The better auction houses know better than to scrub or sharpen for customers who have their own preferences for restoration. But a touch of lemon oil can’t hurt. It’s just for the surface of the better ebonies, and only if needed.”
“This knife had lemon oil on its handle, George Framling’s prints…and nothing else.”
“That seems odd. You’d think if it had just been lying around in a drawer there’d be other marks and prints. Any conclusions?”
“Well, who knows? I suppose you could, at a stretch, suspect that Framling had somehow got hold of one of your knives…maybe to incriminate you. Silly, since his own prints were all over it. But Framling is not known for thinking things right through.”
“I have one Vilebrequin, an eight inch chef knife. But it’s mint. All my knives are mint or near mint. I’d love to collect everything with a good marque, but where do you put it all? So I limit myself to the top condition items. I’ve never owned any other Vilebrequin but the one in my collection, which is right where it’s always been.”
“I dunno. I thought maybe you had the odd worn knife just for general or kitchen use.”
“I do have a few like that. But everybody does. Probably in a drawer in the kitchen. Want to see?”
“Nah. It’s all just wondering and speculation. But till we know where George Framling went after he left Hong Kong airport we have to keep checking these things. I’ll get my young bloke then we’ll both get out of your way. I’m sure you’ve got things to do and educating an old bull is not top of your priorities…”
“Come on. You know I’m not like that. You’re more than welcome to stay on. And I hope you pop in again. I’ve got some tea coming in fresh from Mahalaluxmi garden. You won’t have to pronounce it, just drink it. I’m pretty sure it’ll bowl you over.”
“Well thank you, Peter. And thank you for everything. I’ll just pop inside and get my young bloke – he’s had plenty of time to find something – and we’ll be going.”
Dibs got up and as he entered the house yelled:
Just as Peter Vaughan was following through the front door with the tea tray a young detective emerged from one of the inside rooms. All three men came together in the kitchen.
“Time to get out of Mr. Vaughan’s hair, Trav. Got anything?”
“Well, whatever it is you’ve got for taking away, let’s do a quick inventory and give it to Mr. Vaughan.”
“There’s really just the one type of item, sir. These. I’ve swept up any fine dust or filings as well and put them in their own bag.”
The young man held out some small rectangular rocks, each of which had been placed in ziploc plastic.
“Oh, be careful with them, guys. I assume you know what they are.” Peter Vaughan had what could only be described as a sudden jump in his voice.
“Peter, I hope you don’t mind, but we just need to take a look at your whetstones. From what you told me before, I know they must be very valuable. All mined in Japan?”
“Yes, so please be careful. They look like nothing, but I hand-picked them myself, in Kyoto, near where they were mined a long time ago. Far more valuable than any of my knives.”
“Yes, after you told me a little about them I boned up, asked around. Amazing stuff, whetstone. I’m told one lump of the best Jap stuff can set you back twenty thou. Can that be right?”
“Fifty thousand would be cheap for one of those Nakayamas your young friend is holding. Chief Inspector, do you really need to take these away?”
“Well, you see, Peter, when I was getting the murder weapon checked and rechecked, analysed and reanalysed and so on, I found out that fancy microscopes can turn the tiniest thing into a huge landscape. You know, the blade on the knife used to kill your wife – I don’t think I’ve mentioned the blade – it had been freshly sharpened.”
“How do you know that?”
“Oh, I don’t how they know, but the techos told me it has to do with rates of oxidisation and other things. Sharpened within hours of use. They also told me it had been sharpened perfectly. Not many knives are sharpened well at all…as I’m sure you know. This old blade was sharpened by a real artist, using the absolute best gear.”
“But it was Framling’s knife, or Sky’s, never mine.”
“Of course, but we need to check everything. It seems that when an old carbon steel blade interacts with a drenched whetstone there are all kinds of chemical and physical exchanges. Doesn’t apply necessarily to modern stainless blades, of course. But there are so many places on a worn carbon steel surface where things can lodge or be dislodged. With the kinds of analytical microscopes they have now you can identify the knife from the stone and the stone from the knife. The one is all over the other, like a pair of honeymooners.”
“You’re kidding. I know knives and stones, and you can’t be that definite.”
“Seems you can be, Peter. You’re the one who set me off on all this, I just followed it through. This knife made by Vilebrequin – seems I can pronounce it! – had its personal print of iron, carbon, sulphur…you name it. Bits of stone and mineral, microscopic bits, lodge in the steel. Stone and steel tell quite a story. Of course, we won’t know for sure till we analyse these stones, but there was a perfect sharpening job done using some kind of Jap stone on the day the knife was used to kill. Seems there had been no sharpening before that for decades, so it makes sense that whoever used the knife needed it sharper for the purpose. Somebody, a person super-fussy and anxious to do a perfect job, wanted that knife in efficient shape for cutting through a woman’s neck flesh, though he was confident she’d be asleep or in a limp, drowsy state. It was somebody who simply didn’t know how to do a rough job. A stranger to mediocrity.
“I’m guessing the somebody was fussy in all kinds of ways. Fussy about getting the woman’s boyfriend on a plane at the perfect time by using a dud movie deal as a lure. Framling didn’t take the cash from his wife because he was intending to return in triumph. It’s a good bet Framling won’t be back in a hurry.
“Our somebody was fussy about coordinating all that with a tide that would allow him to approach the house in the most unexpected way. Fussy about keeping the prints on the knife absolutely intact after Framling had handled it, possibly to intimidate our somebody.”
There was a long silence, then Dibs dangled the bags of stone in front of Peter Vaughan’s face.
“What do you think, Peter.”
Vaughan seemed paralysed for a moment, then:
“I thought I was distracting you very pleasantly for the last hour, Chief Inspector. Seems you were distracting me. You will look after my whetstones, won’t you?”
“Certainly will, Peter.”
“Er, how long will you be looking after them, Chief Inspector?”
“I’d say around fifteen years, if all goes perfectly for you.”
So that’s what I’m like. I’m a dill with dills and a fusspot with fusspots. Why if I were to take it into my head to start learning about the ins and outs of making wine…”
“Don’t do that.”
Quinlivin and Dessie Saleh had spoken almost simultaneously, not without a touch of panic.
“Why not? Why shouldn’t I be a bit of an expert in wine. Everywhere you go these days they’re spouting about vintages and ‘terroir’. Did I pronounce that properly? Probably not.”
“Now Dibs, do you really want to take all the fun and romance out of wine?”
Dibs took a good swig from his preferred old tumbler, once a Vegemite jar.
“No, I don’t. I think I’ll stay a dill for a while – at least where wine is concerned. I don’t think my Gwenny would want me turning into a fusspot over bloody plonk.”