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Authors: Peter Corris

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P
ETER
C
ORRIS
is known as the ‘godfather’ of Australian crime fiction through his Cliff Hardy detective stories. He has written in many other areas, including a co-authored autobiography of the late Professor Fred Hollows, a history of boxing in Australia, spy novels, historical novels and a collection of short stories about golf (see
www.petercorris.net
). He is married to writer Jean Bedford and lives in Sydney. They have three daughters.

PETER
CORRIS

open file

A CLIFF HARDY NOVEL

 

For help in preparation of this book I am grateful to Ruth Corris and Jean Bedford. Beverley Kingston’s
A History of New South Wales
(2006) helped to provide period facts and texture.

 

All characters and events in this book are fictitious and any resemblance to actual people and circumstances is coincidental.

 

First published in 2008

 

Copyright © Peter Corris 2008

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The
Australian Copyright Act 1968
(the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or 10 per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act.

 

Allen & Unwin
83 Alexander Street
Crows Nest NSW 2065
Australia

Phone:

(61 2) 8425 0100

Fax:

(61 2) 9906 2218

Email:

[email protected]

Web:

www.allenandunwin.com

 

National Library of Australia
Cataloguing-in-Publication entry:

 

Corris, Peter, 1942– .

 

 Open file / author, Peter Corris.

 Crows Nest, N.S.W. : Allen & Unwin, 2008.

 ISBN: 978 1 74175 417 9 (pbk.).

 

A823.3

 

Set in 12/14 pt Adobe Garamond by Midland Typesetters, Australia Printed in Australia by McPherson’s Printing Group

 

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

For Ruth, Michelle and Heath.

part one
Prologue

My Private Enquiry Agent licence was cancelled, my appeal having been rejected with a clear indication that the ban was for life. I’d reached a crossroad. That sounded better than a dead end. With money inherited from my murdered part-time partner Lily Truscott I was ready to take off overseas for a while. See her brother fight in an elimination bout for a shot at the WBA welterweight title, travel around the States and Europe, drink with friends. Bringing down the people who’d killed Lily had helped with the grief and guilt, but I still had some things to come to terms with.

I’d found a handyman friend to sit my Glebe house while I was away and continue making some much-needed repairs.

Hank Bachelor, who’d helped me out more than once, was due to take over the Newtown office now that he’d got back his enthusiasm for the PEA business. A few hours before I was due to fly out business class, I went to the office to clean it up a bit. At least leave Hank some space in the filing cabinets.

A lot of the stuff could be hurled, some I’d take back home and stack away in a cupboard. I was sorting through it when I came across a thick folder that I hadn’t touched in over twenty
years. It was in a box of case files I’d moved from Darlinghurst to Newtown when St Peters Lane was targeted for renovation and rent rise.

The file with the words ‘Hampshire Open’ and the date ‘1988’ scrawled across it was an inch—call it three centimetres—thick, unusual for me. My case files mostly didn’t run much beyond a copy of the contract, my expense sheets, bank deposits and pages of scribbled notes, mostly illegible, from interviews. Photographs sometimes, photocopies, and microfilm and microfiche printouts in the old days. No internet downloads back then. Sometimes I included a few pages of the notes, diagrams and squiggles that I used to try to make sense of what was happening as things went along.

Reluctantly, I took the folder out of the box, slapped it on the desk and looked at it. It was dusty and musty and the blue folder was yellowed and crisp. Why was I punishing myself? I had money in the bank, was about to take a long overdue break. I’d been good at what I did until being good wasn’t enough, and in this time of spin and protect your arse at all costs, I’d slipped up.

Back then I hadn’t slipped up but I hadn’t succeeded either. I opened the folder . . .

1

1987 I was sitting in my St Peters Lane office, reading about the $100 000 compensation being paid to the members of the Ananda Marga sect for wrongful imprisonment over the Hilton hotel bombing. They’d served seven years and a quick calculation told me that amounted to a bit over fourteen thousand a year. Not princely. They’d been fed and housed, but I doubted they were grateful. The pardon didn’t surprise me: the little I’d had to do with security service types suggested that most of them would have had trouble passing a true or false test where the odds were even.

I put the paper aside when I heard the knock on the door and took my feet off the desk. I was expecting him, but he was late. I didn’t like Paul Hampshire from the jump, and I never warmed to him. He came in trying to hide the fact that the two flights of stairs had put him out of breath. He wore a blue suit with a handkerchief in the jacket pocket and a bow tie. I’ve never trusted men who sport bow ties and handkerchiefs. I suppose they think it looks natty.

Anyway, nattiness was out of place in my office, which
could be described as drab although I preferred to think of it as functional. There were places to sit, places to put things. What else do you need? I could make coffee and I had a cask of red in a drawer and paper cups. A sixth-hand bar fridge kept the water, the white wine and the beer cold. The dirty windows made it a bit dim on a dull day, but that’s kind of appropriate. The sunshine could struggle through at other times.

Hampshire had introduced himself over the phone an hour or so before and now he did it again in a loud voice, as if he needed to remind us both of who he was. I shook his hand—a bit soft, no sportsman, no gym-goer. He was tallish, but carrying too much weight, which accounted for the trouble with the stairs. There was something off about his sandy hair.

‘I was told you’d seen military service,’ he said. ‘I prefer to deal with veterans, being one myself.’

He said this while still standing. He had the bearing and the moustache. I invited him to sit and he did, with only the barest glance of distaste at the chair. He didn’t protect the creases in his trousers—that won him points, but he shot his cuffs, which lost them.

‘What’s the problem, Mr Hampshire?’

‘Missing son. Mind if I smoke?’ He had the cigarette out and the lighter up almost before I could make the appropriate response. I pushed an ashtray across the desk between us. He sucked on the cigarette and blew the smoke out in a cloud; he tapped on the edge of the ashtray but some of the ash didn’t land in it—one of your dirty smokers. I made allowances for stress. I pulled a notepad towards me.

‘Your son’s name is?’

‘Justin. He was seventeen and in his last year at school.’

Only just
, I thought,
seeing that it was March. And why the past tense?
‘What’s the name of the school?’

‘Bryce Grammar, in Dee Why.’

I was a Maroubra High boy. My ex-wife, Cyn, who’d been to SCEGGS, kept in touch with her old school friends—Janey this had married Simon that of Shore, and Susie something had married Charles something else of Kings, and I’d overheard the gossip, but no mention of Bryce Grammar.

Hampshire was working through his cigarette as if time spent not puffing was time wasted. It was going to be a smoky interview. I wrote down the name of the school and encouraged him to give me the details. He lit more cigarettes, dropped more ash and visibly aged as he smoked and talked. He’d come in looking, say, fifty, and appeared more like sixty by the time he’d finished. But I had difficulty finding sympathy for him. I was sure that, convincing as some of it was, not everything he was telling me was the truth.

His son Justin was seventeen when he disappeared two years ago. Why was I being invited on board this late? Because Hampshire had been overseas, estranged from his wife and not really in touch with his son.

‘I had a very big business deal in progress that needed my complete attention twenty-four seven, three hundred and sixty-five days a year. Plus I had . . . personal complications in the States. It was difficult. Angela is a hysteric. I never knew how much to believe and . . . time just slipped away.’

‘But now you’re back and concerned.’

‘I was always concerned.’

‘But busy.’

‘I’m told you can be very provoking. I’m determined not to be provoked. I need your help, Mr Hardy.’

He butted his third cigarette and didn’t light another to show how committed he was. He said his wife had reported their son’s disappearance to the police and that all the usual procedures had been gone through.

‘I’m not saying the police didn’t take it seriously,’ Hampshire said, ‘but it wasn’t the same as a ten-year-old schoolgirl. Justin was a big chap, about your size and build.’

That made him around 186 centimetres and 85 kilos—strapping for a teenager. I asked Hampshire for a photograph and he took one from his wallet. I wanted the photo but it’s always nice to get a look at a wallet. Justin Hampshire was dark-haired, regular-featured, and wore a confident, head-up expression. He looked pretty much the way his father would have done before years, work and a fair bit of play had left their mark. Athletic? Probably. Intelligent? Hard to say, in both cases.

The kid was standing beside a car with P plates, looking proud. The car wasn’t new but it wasn’t a bomb—something Japanese and sporty, like a Honda Accord.

‘I bought him the car just before I had to go over to the States. I taught him to drive in the times he stayed with me.’

That memory seemed to put a dent in his stoical recital. He fished for his cigarettes but stopped himself.

‘You can smoke if it helps,’ I said. ‘This is going to be difficult and there’s a lot more you’re going to have to tell me—about the boy, about the marriage, your wife . . .’

‘Ex-wife.’

‘Right. Other family members here and people in America. Friends.’

‘This has nothing to do with me in America.’

‘How do you know he didn’t go over to take a look, didn’t like what he saw and took off for Alaska?’

‘He was all set to go to Duntroon, family tradition. What you’re saying’s absurd.’

‘Nothing’s absurd in a missing person case, Mr Hampshire. Nothing’s too good, nothing’s too bad. I’m guessing he had a passport, from when you stumped up for a trip to . . . Bali? He can ski, right? He could be in Aspen, giving lessons.’

Hampshire stared at me. ‘How could you know that?’

‘I told you I was guessing.’

‘It was Thailand, not Bali, but you’re right, I paid for Justin and Angela and Sarah to go.’

‘Sarah?’

‘My daughter, I think. She’s fifteen now.’

I added a note.

Hampshire ran a finger around the inside of his collar.
Take off the silly fucking tie
, I thought, but he didn’t. His colour rose and he didn’t look well. I got up and turned on a fan that moved the warm air around a little. I took a paper cup from the desk drawer, opened the bar fridge and poured him some cold water. He drank it down, undid the buttons on his jacket and leaned back in the chair.

‘Thanks,’ he said. ‘I’m not in the best of shape—over-weight, blood pressure. The pace of business over there is horrific.’

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