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Peter Corris

The Undertow

PART ONE

1

It's a long time ago, Frank,' I said.

Frank Parker stroked his grey stubble as if to indicate the passage of time. 'Twenty-three years. That's not so long. Seems like yesterday the way time flies now.'

I knew what he meant. When I was a kid the summer school holidays stretched forever, and in winter it seemed as if summer and surfing would never come. I couldn't afford a wetsuit and had to wait at least until late September to hit the water. Now the years dropped away like the calendar leaves in an old Warner Brothers movie. Still, twenty years was a long time to go back digging up an old murder case.

Frank, retired from the police force as a deputy commissioner, and a long time friend married to Hilde, my former tenant and nothing more than a close friend, had asked me to visit him to talk something over. I was surprised to find that Hilde was away for the day attending a social work conference in the Blue Mountains. Frank could have had me over anytime and it seemed that he'd deliberately picked a day when Hilde wasn't there.

'It's niggled at me every day since,' Frank said, working on his second stubbie since I arrived. Two in an hour was fast work for Frank. After some pleasantries and with the first of our beers in hand, he'd said he wanted me to take a look at the Gregory Heysen case. Heysen was a doctor who'd been convicted of hiring a hit man to kill his partner in their Darlinghurst practice.

'I remember the name, but I forget the details, if I ever knew them,' I said. 'You'd better tell me why it's got you so worried. And why do I get the feeling you didn't want Hilde around while we talked about this?'

Frank sighed and looked his age, which was just the other side of sixty. He played tennis, swam, didn't smoke, was a light drinker and both his parents had lived into their nineties. He'd always looked twenty years younger than his age but not now. 'Smart bastard, aren't you?' he said.

I shrugged, took a swig on the Stella. 'I can usually spot the obvious.'

'Okay. It's like this. I was one of the team investigating the murder of Peter Bellamy. It was one of the biggest hands-on jobs I'd had since getting out of uniform. I shouldn't have been anywhere near it.'

'Why?'

'I'd had an affair with Catherine. This was before I met Hilde.'

'Catherine?'

'Catherine Beddoes, Heysen's wife. It went on for a little while after she married Heysen. I didn't know that. She didn't tell me she was married. Then she did and I ended it.'

'Jesus, Frank.'

'I know, I know. I should've declared a conflict of interest and butted out.'

'Why didn't you?'

Frank drained his stubbie and looked almost angry and upset enough to throw it into the pool. We were sitting in the back yard of his Paddington terrace. He'd bought it when you could buy houses in Paddo without needing a six figure income. He still had some mortgage, he'd told me, but with lots of equity at current prices. He'd been able to renovate and put the pool in with part of his super.

'I was ambitious, wanted to make a step up. I didn't know that there'd be a clearing out of the corrupt bastards above me and that my promotion would be… accelerated anyway. The Heysen case was high profile and tricky. We got a break and cracked it. Kudos all around.'

'But?'

'I had some doubts. You mostly do except when it's open and shut. Which it usually is, you know-domestic, financial, sexual…'

I nodded.

'Bellamy and Heysen seemed to get on well. They'd graduated from Sydney uni at much the same time, done locums, knocked around, borrowed the dough to set up the practice and were doing okay. They bulk-billed, put in the hours, worked their arses off. Made house calls, would you believe?'

'Dinosaur stuff.'

'Right. They both lived more or less locally-Bellamy in Darlinghurst, Heysen in Earlwood.'

'That's not local.'

'Close enough. A big difference between them emerged-Bellamy was gay, Heysen was straight, very straight. Hadn't known about Bellamy's orientation. After a while, Bellamy started to actively attract HIV positives and AIDS cases to the practice and Heysen didn't like it.'

'Uh oh.'

'Yeah. Bad vibes. Bellamy accuses Heysen of homophobia, spreads the word. Heysen's client list starts to slip. The two can hardly bear to lay eyes on each other so they have to do something. Heysen offers to buy Bellamy out but Bellamy isn't interested. Turns out Heysen hasn't got the money anyway. In fact, having recently got married, bought a house and with a child and a demanding wife, he's asset-rich but cash-poor. All this talking's making my throat dry. I'm having another beer. You?'

'Sure.'

Frank went inside and I got up and dipped my hand in the pool. It was late March and the water was still at a comfortable temperature. Made me wish I had a pool, but everything in Frank's behaviour showed that he had problems that I was sure I didn't want.

Frank came back with the beers and started talking before he sat down. 'Then it gets sleazy. Bellamy's out cruising and he gets stabbed to death. We work it and it looks like a standard homosexual killing-wrong move made at the wrong time to the wrong person, you know. Bellamy seemed to be popular and he'd become a spokesman for the gays and we were anxious not to be branded as homophobic and all that, so we did the legwork. Talked to everyone, probed the backgrounds and foregrounds. All we came up with was the animosity between the two of them, but Heysen seemed to be above suspicion. He couldn't afford to buy his partner out, but he wasn't exactly on the breadline. Plus.. ' Frank took a long pull on his stubbie, 'his wife's family had some money.

'The pressure came on to crack it and we got a break. An informant of mine steered us to Rafael Padrone, a low-lifer who's got terminal cancer. Heysen was treating him. Under the sort of pressure we could apply back then, Padrone says Heysen hired him to kill Bellamy and paid him twenty grand. Padrone's got all the details right, including those little things we held back. He's also got fifteen thousand bucks stashed and Heysen can't account for twenty thousand that should have been in the practice's account and isn't. And Padrone hasn't had a bill for his treatments.'

'Pretty circumstantial.'

'Yeah, but compelling enough for the DPP. Heysen was an arrogant prick and made a terrible impression in interviews, not to mention his trial. Padrone had pleaded guilty and everything he'd said was on video. He was sentenced to fourteen years and was dead in six months. Heysen got fourteen as well, for conspiracy to commit murder. QED. You must remember this.'

I thought about it. One thing I knew for sure was that Frank had never mentioned it to me, and we'd discussed most of our more interesting cases over the years. Sydney throws up murders and conspiracies, trials and appeals, judgements and sentences every year and they tend to blend together. I had only the vaguest recollection of the name Heysen, and then probably because I quite liked some of Hans Heysen's paintings and had a print of one in my house. I shook my head. 'Barely a glimmer of it,' I said. 'What were your doubts about?'

'It was all a bit too neat. Virtually a dying confession. An obvious suspect. Pressure for closure. Everything.'

'But you went along.'

'It was out of my hands. I gave my evidence straight. Heysen's lawyer was competent-he's dead too, by the

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