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Original Essays | September 18, 2014

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1 Burnside Mystery- A to Z

This title in other editions

Port Vila Blues

by

Port Vila Blues Cover

 

 

Excerpt

1

Carlyle Street, Double Bay, 7 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, the

air clean and cool. Behind closed doors in the big houses set

back far from the street, people were beginning to stir, brewing

coffee or standing dazed under showers. Wyatt imagined the

smell of the coffee, the sound of the water gurgling in the

pipes.

But not at 29 Carlyle Street. According to Jardine’s briefing

notes, the house would be empty for the next few days. It was the

home of Cassandra Wintergreen, MP, Labor member for the seat

of Broughton, currently in Dili on a fact-finding mission.

‘Champagne Marxist and ALP head-kicker from way back,’

Jardine had scrawled in his covering note. That meant nothing

to Wyatt. He’d never voted. If he read the newspapers at all it was

with an eye for a possible heist, not news about political tussles.

His only interest in Wintergreen lay in the fact that she had

$50,000 in a floor safe in her bedroom: a kickback, according to

Jardine, from a grateful developer who’d asked her to intervene

in a planning dispute regarding access to a strip of shops he was

building in her electorate.

Wyatt continued his surveillance. Whenever he staked out a

place he noticed everything, no matter how trivial, knowing that

something insignificant one day can be crucial the next; noticing

in stages, first the general picture, then the finer details; noticing

routes out, and obstacles like a rubbish bin or a crack in a footpath

that could bring an escape undone.

There were two gateways in the long street frontage,

indicating a driveway that curved up to the front door then back

down to the street. Shrubs and small trees screened the front of

the house from the footpath and from the houses on either side.

It all spelt money and conviction.

Conviction. Wyatt had grown up in narrow back streets. His

mother had never spoken about his father and Wyatt had no

memories of the man. Wyatt had earned himself broad convictions

on those narrow streets. Later he’d read books, and looked and

listened and acted, refining his convictions.

Jardine’s floor plans revealed a hallway at number 29, two

large front rooms on either side of it, and a range of other rooms

at the back and on the upper level. Jardine had marked three

possible hitches for Wyatt’s attention. One, the house was patrolled

by HomeSecure once a day, usually around midnight; two, the

alarm system was wired to the local cop shop; three, he’d not

been able to supply the cancel codes for the alarm system but the

combination for Wintergreen’s safe was her birth date: 27–03–48.

Jardine built his jobs on information supplied by claims assessors

in insurance companies, the tradesmen who installed security

systems, surveillance reports and bugged conversations collected

by bent private detectives. A word dropped here and there by

real estate agents, chauffeurs, taxi drivers, bank clerks, casino

croupiers, clubland boasters.

Wyatt watched for another five minutes. It was the variable

in any situation that kept him on his toes. Without the habit of

permanent vigilance he knew that he’d lose the edge, and that

might mean a final bullet or blade or at the least steel bands

manacling his wrists. There was always the unexpected change

in layout or routine, the traffic jam, the flat battery, the empty

safe. But these were things you could never fully prepare for, so

you hoped they’d never happen. If they did, you tried to absorb

them as you encountered them and hoped they wouldn’t trip you

up. The innocent bystander was often the worst that could

happen. Man, woman or child, they were unpredictable. Would

they panic? Stand dumbly in the line of fire? Try to be a hero?

Wyatt hated it if they got hurt or killed—not because he cared

personally but because it upset people, particularly the police.

Satisfied that the house was empty, Wyatt crossed the street

to number 29, a brisk shoe-leather snap to his footsteps. Dressed

in a dark, double-breasted coat over a collar and tie, swinging a

black briefcase, he might have been the first businessman up

that morning. Soon cars would be backing out of driveways,

white exhaust gases drifting in the air, but for the moment Wyatt

was the only figure abroad on the long, prosperous streets of

Double Bay.

He paused at the driveway. A rolled-up newspaper was lying

in the gutter nearby. Wyatt had dropped it there unseen in the

dark hours of the morning, but anyone watching from a nearby

window now would have seen him bend down, pick up the

newspaper and stand there for a while, looking indecisively up

the driveway at the house as if he were asking himself whether or

not he should take the paper in or leave it there where it could be

damaged or stolen. They would have seen him decide. They

would have seen him set off up the driveway, a kindly passerby,

banging the paper against his knee.

The front windows could not be seen from the street or the

houses on either side. Wyatt swung the briefcase, smashing the

sitting room window. At once the blue light above the front door

began to flash and Wyatt knew that bells would be ringing at the

local police station. He had a few minutes. He wouldn’t rush it.

The newspaper was tightly rolled in shrink-wrapped plastic.

It had the stiffness and density of a small branch. Wyatt dropped

it under the window and walked unhurriedly back down the

driveway and onto the footpath again.

In the next street he took off the coat and tie, revealing a

navy blue reversible jacket. There was a cap in the pocket. He put

that on and immediately looked as though he belonged to the

little Mazda parked near the corner. Dark, slanting letters on

each side spelled out ‘Rapido Couriers’ and he’d stolen it from a

service depot the night before. Couriers were as common now as

milk vans in the old days, so he wasn’t expecting questions and

he wasn’t expecting anyone to be looking for the car in Double

Bay. He climbed in and settled back to wait, a street directory

propped on the steering wheel—an old ploy, one that worked.

He fine-tuned the police-band radio on the seat next to him

in time to hear the call go out. He heard the dispatcher spell the

address slowly and give street references.

‘Neighbour call it in?’ a voice wanted to know.

‘Negative. The alarm system at the premises is wired to the

station.’

‘A falling leaf,’ the patrol-car cop predicted. ‘Dew. Electrical

fault. What do you bet me?’

Another voice cut in: ‘Get to it, you two.’

It was as though the patrol-car cop had snapped to attention.

Wyatt heard the man say, ‘Right away, sarge, over and out,’ and

a minute later he saw the patrol car pass, lights flashing behind

him on Carlyle Street.

The toothache didn’t creep into his consciousness, it arrived

in full, lancing savagery. Nerves twitched and Wyatt felt his

left eye flutter. He couldn’t bear to move his head. It was the

worst attack yet, arriving unannounced, arriving when the job

demanded his full attention. He tapped the teeth on his upper left

jaw, searching for the bad one as though finding it would give

him some comfort. It was there, all right.

He snapped two paracetamol tablets out of a foil strip and

washed them down with a bottle of apple juice. Then he took out

a tiny jar of clove oil, shook a drop on his finger, rubbed it into

his jaw and gently over the tooth. He’d been doing this for five

days now. He didn’t know if the painkillers or the clove oil did

much good. They didn’t make things worse, so that was something

in their favour.

Wyatt blocked out the pain and concentrated on the radio. It

was good to be working alone, the appeal of the planning and the

execution—and, if he cared to admit it, of the anticipated and

actual danger. He thought for a moment about these jobs Jardine

was blueprinting for him. In one instance, three months earlier,

a millionaire had hired them to get back the silverware collection

he’d lost to his ex-wife in the divorce settlement. In another, a

finance company had paid to have a bankrupt property developer

who owed them two million dollars relieved of two undeclared

Nolans and a Renoir.

The radio crackled. The patrol car came on the line: ‘False

alarm.’

‘Explain, please,’ the dispatcher said.

The voice might have been writing a formal report. ‘Constable

Wright and I approached the premises. We observed that a front

window had been broken. On closer examination, we discovered

a rolled-up newspaper lying on the ground under the window.

Constable Wright obtained entry to the premises through the

broken window. The premises are furnished but empty and

intact. We await further instructions.’

The sergeant came on the line. ‘Knock off the fancy talk.

You reckon the paper boy got a bit vigorous?’

‘Looks like it, sarge.’

‘Okay, go back in, turn off the alarm, and shoot over to the

highway. There’s been a pile-up.’

‘Right, sarge.’

‘Meanwhile I’ll give the security firm a bell and get them

over to seal the window.’

‘Right, sarge.’

Wyatt continued to wait. When he saw the patrol car leave

along Carlyle Street, he reversed into an alleyway, got out, and

pasted HomeSecure transfers over the Rapido name. Finally he

pulled on overalls stencilled with the name HomeSecure and

drove around to number 29, spinning into the driveway with a

convincing show of urgency. Pulling up at the front door, he got

out, cleared the remaining shards of glass from the window frame

with his gloved hand and climbed over the sill and into the

house.

He made straight for the main bedroom. It was a curiously

flattened room: a futon bed base and mattress at ankle height,

low chest of drawers, squat cane chair in one corner, built-in

closet, no pictures on the walls. Only curtains existed above waist

level and they admitted the blurry light of early morning onto the

bed. It was also an asexual room, as though Wintergreen spent

all of her passion brokering deals somewhere else, for her profit

or for the profit of those who might one day help advance her

career.

The safe was under a heavy Nepalese rug at the foot of the

bed. Wyatt lifted the floorboard panel, keyed in the combination,

heard a hum as the electronic lock disengaged.

He opened the door and looked in on a cavity the size of a

small television set. There were papers and files stacked in there,

but not the fifty grand that Jardine had promised. Wyatt emptied

the safe and knocked against the sides and base with his knuckles.

He snorted. The bottom was false.

Wyatt pushed experimentally at the corners. The base lock

was a simple push-pull, spring-loaded catch. He swung it open.

The fifty thousand was there all right, bundled in twenties,

fifties and hundreds. Wyatt stacked them into slits in the lining of

his overalls. Twenty-five for Jardine, twenty-five for himself.

He paused. There was something else down there in the

darkness: a small, soft, black velvet bag. Wyatt reached down,

pulled it out.

The object that tumbled into his palm gleamed softly in the

light of his torch. It was a butterfly, 1930s Deco style, with an

eight-centimetre wingspan. The body consisted of 2-carat

diamonds set in gold. The wings were also gold, set with flowing

rows of baguette diamonds in channels alternating with rows of

round diamonds. He turned it over. A thin line stamped in the

gold read Tiffany & Co.

Wyatt added the butterfly to the fifty thousand dollars.

Jardine would know someone who’d know what to do with it—sell

it overseas as it was or melt the gold setting and sell the stones

separately. A local buyer was out: the larger stones could be

identified and traced too easily—they’d be on record somewhere,

able to be matched to an X-ray or a photograph.

He was out of the house and easing down the driveway five

minutes after he’d gone in. He paused for a moment at the gate,

then eased the Mazda onto the street. There were more people

about now: children walking to bus stops, men and women

heading to work in glossy foreign cars. They looked scrubbed

clean and well fed, that’s all Wyatt knew or cared about them.

 

2

Wyatt’s tooth was giving him hell by the time Ansett’s early

breakfast flight from Sydney touched down in Melbourne on

Wednesday morning. He always travelled light, knowing that if

anyone intended to grab him it would be while he waited around

for his luggage to tumble onto the carousel. He had an overnight

bag with a change of clothing in it, wrapped around the Tiffany

and the fifty thousand dollars. And where possible he avoided

leaving a paper trail, even with fake ID, so he walked past the

hire-car booths and caught a taxi.

Thirty minutes to Brunswick Road, and even on the exit

ramp it was bumper to bumper. He checked the time: 8 a.m.

They should be awake in the Coburg house.

The cab driver turned left off the exit ramp and headed east

along Brunswick Road.

‘I’d like to give Sydney Road a miss,’ he said, ‘if that’s okay

by you?’ Wyatt nodded his assent. Sydney Road was the most

direct route into Coburg but he knew that it would be bad, locked

with peak-hour trams and heavy transports. The driver turned

left a couple of streets before Sydney Road and wound his way

deep into Coburg, a region of hot little streets and weatherboard

houses, finally delivering Wyatt at the entrance to a dead-end

strip of asphalt ten houses long. Wyatt got out, paid the man, let

his senses register that he was safe, then headed for the white

weatherboard where Jardine was maybe slowly dying.

Jardine’s sister opened the door. She was careworn, thin, a

spasm of emotion pulling her mouth down at one corner when

she saw it was Wyatt at the door. It was a look Wyatt knew well,

so he said her name carefully, softly, barely murmuring it:

‘Nettie.’

Sourness became exasperation and she said, ‘Why don’t you

leave us alone? We’re managing. You’re just bringing back bad

memories.’

‘Did he say that?’

She looked away stubbornly. ‘It doesn’t do him any good,

seeing you.’

‘Let him be the judge of that, Nettie.’

Jardine’s sister bit her lower lip. Then she shrugged, closed

the screen door in Wyatt’s face and disappeared down the gloomy

hallway to a room at the back. The house was in need of

restumping and the interior smelt of cooped-up humans and

dampness. The house was rented. The wallpaper, carpets,

light fittings and laminex benches were left over from the dismal

end of the 1950s, and Wyatt looked forward to the day when he

could rescue Jardine and the sister and place them somewhere

better.

Nettie materialised from the shadows, hooking limp strands

of hair behind her ears. She resembled an Oklahoma dustbowl

survivor, etched cheekbones and eyes wide, dark and longsuffering.

‘I just want you to know,’ she said, opening the screen

door to admit Wyatt into the house, ‘he doesn’t blame you but

the rest of us do.’

Wyatt stopped and stared at her. His voice was cold, factual

and remote, with no detectable emotion in it: ‘Nettie, he knew

the risks.’

Jardine came from a family of half-bent secondhand dealers

and back-of-a-truck merchants. They were careful and stayed out

of trouble. Jardine’s getting head-shot six months ago on a job

with Wyatt had been unaccountable, the kind of thing that could

have happened to anyone, but it was a first for Jardine’s family

and Jardine was the only one who wasn’t blaming Wyatt for it.

‘He knew the risks,’ Wyatt repeated.

What Wyatt wasn’t admitting was that he did feel some

responsibility—not for the fact that he’d put Jardine at risk, but

for what had happened since. When he’d first seen Jardine again

after the job, Wyatt had been shocked by the change in the man

with whom he’d pulled a dozen successful jobs over the years, a

man he liked and trusted—as much as Wyatt liked and trusted

anyone. Six months earlier, Jardine had come out of retirement as

backup on the hit on the Mesic compound looking fit and alert, a

man with a slow-burning good humour, but they’d been ambushed

after the Mesic job and Jardine had been head-shot, a graze above

one ear. Wyatt had paid Jardine his fee, taken him to a doctor

who didn’t ask questions, and gone to ground in Tasmania, a base

where the wrong people would never find him.

He’d assumed that Jardine had gone back into peaceful

retirement, but the Jardine he’d seen in Sydney a few weeks later

was partly paralysed along one side, kilos lighter, a few IQ points

slower and duller. Jardine tended to forget things. He owed two

months rent. Pizza cartons and styrofoam coffee cups littered his

pair of rooms at the Dorset Hotel in Newtown, and it was clear

that he wore the same clothing for days at a time.

Wyatt had hauled his old partner off to a 24-hour clinic,

fabricating a cover story to account for the wound which still

showed as a raw slice in Jardine’s scalp. ‘Stroke,’ the doctor

diagnosed. Probably brought on by the injury. Jardine needed

professional care. Was there someone who could look after him

for the next few months? A friend? Family? A live-in nurse, if that

could be afforded?

Wyatt contacted the family in Melbourne. For two days he

let himself be tongue-lashed by them. Finally Nettie said she’d

take Jardine in. Wyatt had known someone would. All he’d

wanted was for them to say so. ‘I’ll pay the bills,’ he told them.

Nettie had never married. She’d had a job in the Kodak

factory but lost it a year ago and didn’t like her chances of getting

another. She found the Coburg house, a dump with enough room

for two adults at a monthly rent that wouldn’t cripple Wyatt, and

Jardine moved in with her. All their needs—medical, domestic—

Wyatt paid for.

He knew it was temporary and he looked forward to the time

when he could score big and set Jardine and Nettie up for life.

Get that unwanted weight off his mind, his back.

‘I promise not to upset him,’ he told Nettie now.

Nettie had made her point. She turned away from Wyatt in

the hallway and opened the door to one of the front rooms. She

jerked her head: ‘He’s out the back.’

Wyatt clasped her arm gently and gave her a package. ‘To

keep you going,’ he said. ‘Twenty-five thousand.’

Nettie didn’t look at the money, didn’t count it. The money

disappeared with her into the front room and Wyatt’s final

contact with her that morning was the sensation of her thin arm

in his fingers and a sound that might have been a muttered

‘thanks’ hanging in the air between them.

He walked through to the back of the house, a fibro extension

with a low, buckled ceiling and dust-clogged louvred windows.

The only good thing about it was the morning sun striking it

through a fig tree in the yard outside. The air was warm, a little

streaked and blurry owing to the dust motes stirring in the angled

sunlight, and smelling only faintly of illness, privation and

cut-short dreams.

Jardine clawed a hand over the old bakelite smoking stand

next to his lumpish armchair. His mouth worked: ‘Mate,’ he said

at last, smiling lopsidedly. ‘Where did you spring from?’

‘The Double Bay job, remember?’

Wyatt spoke harshly. He hated to see the weakness in Jardine.

Jardine seemed to exist in a fog a lot of the time now and he

wanted to cut through it. ‘The MP on the take, Wintergreen.’

Jardine looked across at him, wavering, trying to draw back

the spittle glistening on his lips. His left hand rested palm up in

the threadbare brown blanket in his lap. The left half of his face

was immobile. A strange, inappropriate expression formed on his

face and Wyatt realised that his old friend was frowning, trying

to recall the briefing session, the job itself. Then Jardine’s face

cleared. A smile of great sweetness settled on it, and his voice was

clear: ‘Got you now. No hassles?’

Wyatt shook his head. ‘I gave your share to Nettie.’

Jardine shook his head. ‘Mate, I don’t know how to thank

you. Me and Net—’

A lashing quality entered Wyatt’s voice. ‘Forget it.’

Jardine straightened in the armchair. His right hand fished a

handkerchief from the pocket of his cardigan and he wiped his

chin defiantly. ‘Okay, okay, suit yourself.’

Wyatt unbuckled his overnight bag. ‘I found a piece of

jewellery hidden with the money. Valuable, Tiffany butterfly.’

‘Nice.’

‘We need someone who can offload it for us.’

Jardine laboured to his feet and shuffled into the adjoining

kitchen. A short time later, Wyatt heard his voice, a low murmur

on the telephone.

He stared across the room at the little computer perched

mute on a card table. Jardine used it to cross-reference jockey

weights, track conditions, blood-line and other horse-racing

factors. In five years he claimed to have won $475,000 and lost

$450,000 using his system. What people didn’t know was that

Jardine had also spent the past few years selling burglary and

armed holdup plans to professionals like Wyatt. Wyatt didn’t

know how many jobs Jardine had on file, but he did know that

they were all in New South Wales and that all would grow rapidly

out of date the longer Jardine stayed in Melbourne with his

sister.

Jardine came back. ‘A sheila called Liz Redding, eleven this

morning, a motel on St. Georges Road.’

Wyatt watched Jardine carefully. Jardine’s face had grown

more elastic in the past few minutes, as if his mind worked well if

he had something to stimulate it. Wyatt even recognised an old

expression on Jardine’s face, a mixture of alertness and absorption

as he calculated the odds of a problem.

‘Fine.’

 

Product Details

ISBN:
9781616951016
Author:
Disher, Garry
Publisher:
Soho Crime
Subject:
Thrillers
Subject:
Mystery-A to Z
Publication Date:
20120831
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Language:
English
Dimensions:
9.26 x 6.23 x 0.97 in 1.02 lb

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Mystery » A to Z
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Fiction and Poetry » Popular Fiction » Crime

Port Vila Blues Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$9.98 In Stock
Product details pages Soho Crime - English 9781616951016 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "It's thief vs. thief Down Under in Disher's fast-paced fifth Wyatt thriller, first published in 1995 (after 1994's Crosskill). Wyatt, a mellower version of Richard Stark's professional crook Parker, is worried about his career options, especially with his caper planner, Jardine, suffering from cancer. Wyatt soon has plenty on his plate after a Tiffany brooch from a recent burglary brings him into conflict with the 'magnetic drill gang,' bent cops robbing banks at the behest of their leader, the sinister De Lisle, a circuit court judge. Tense romance with an undercover cop adds some spice. The action swings through Australia (Sydney, Melbourne, Victoria's Yarra River Valley) before building to an exciting finale in De Lisle's hideout in Port Vila, the capital of the island nation of Vanuatu. Disher should win more U.S. fans with this colorful outing, but those with a taste for hardcore gore will have to look elsewhere. Agent: David Forrer, Inkwell Literary Management." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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