the unit?”

“Yes. My background’s in public relations…” A carefully self-deprecatory smile, then he went on smoothly, “The Commissioner’s asked me to brief you before he sees you himself. There’s a slight problem.”

Police public relations had always presented challenges, especially in the past, when the Service had been the subject of several judicial inquiries into links between crime figures and senior police officers. A new Commissioner, a stringent cleansing of the ranks and a deliberate campaign to improve the Force’s image had largely restored public confidence The recent advent of a particularly ambitious and abrasive minister to the Police portfolio had resulted in a new drive for favorable publicity and further expansion in the PR area. The word had come down to maintain a high, positive profile for the Service, ostensibly to enhance the standing of police officers in general. The more cynical regarded the new emphasis as an effort to reinforce the new Police Minister’s credentials as a future State Premier. Carol felt the choice of Senator Marjory Quince was a sound one, but she was also aware that, as a woman in what had previously been regarded as a man’s job, it was likely the Senator felt constrained to appear more hard line than any previous incumbent.

“Just what is this slight problem?” Carol said briskly.

“It’s the Raeburn death. The Commissioner wants you to take over the investigation.”

There was no need for him to explain Collis Raeburn’s identity. Since the discovery of his body in a five-star hotel two days before, the media had thrashed around trying to create much out of the little that they could glean. Headlines such as AUSTRALIA’S PAVAROTTI DEAD vied with GOLDEN THROAT FOREVER HUSHED, and AUSTRALIA’S SONG IS ENDED. Television stations changed schedules to replay some of Collis Raeburn’s greatest singing triumphs, particularly scenes from Great South Land, in which Raeburn had been depicted singing a variety of songs and arias at various landmarks-“Nessun Dorma” at night on a floodlit Ayers Rock, “The Flower Song” from Carmen at the tip of Cape York, and as a spectacular finale, “Advance Australia Fair” from the top of the arch of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Carol said, “Why am I to take over the case? I understand it looks like a straightforward suicide. Nothing suspicious.”

Sykes checked the door was shut, then said in a low confidential tone, “Collis Raeburn was HIV-positive, and it wasn’t from a blood transfusion.”

HIV-positive. The phrase evoked a kaleidoscope of images and feelings: the fine- drawn features of a dying friend; bravery and grief; the pity and love on some faces, the hatred and fear on others…

“The family want it hushed up,” said Sykes.

“You don’t need me for that.”

“There’s more. The Raeburn family are insisting it’s an accident. Not suicide.”

Carol remained silent. She was used to being wheeled in when something requiring delicate handling of the media was required. Cynically, she ticked off her advantages: she was telegenic, she’d cultivated a network of useful media contacts, and she’d learned the hard way to develop a cool, authoritative persona to deal with the most difficult of interviewers and the thorniest of questions.

“Insurance is involved,” said Sykes. “If it’s an accident, the company pays. If it’s suicide…”

Carol’s tone was tart. “This seems outside the scope of any police inquiry. We’re required to compile a report for the coroner, that’s all.”

Sykes spread his hands. “The Raeburns are personal friends of the Police Minister.” He waited for a response. Carol looked at him, feeling a shaft of disappointment that one of the few women to gain ministerial rank was demanding special favors like any other venal politician.

Sykes cleared his throat, leaned forward conspiratorially. “You know how it is. Just between us, the Commissioner’s been asked to expedite the inquiry, keep any embarrassing details quiet, and get the case in front of the coroner as quickly as possible.”

“Why me?”

Sykes smiled warmly. “Because you’re the best, Inspector. That’s why.”

The Commissioner’s palatial office seemed too glossy and slick for his hulking body and forthright personality. He frowned heavily at Sykes, who stood obsequiously to one side, then he looked back at Carol. “I don’t like this any more than you do, Carol, but the Minister’s insisting on special treatment.”

Before she had left her office, Carol had spoken briefly to the officer in charge of the initial investigation of Collis Raeburn’s death. She said now, “There don’t appear to be any suspicious circumstances. Although there’s no note, everything points to suicide. In fact, he seems to have followed instructions from The Euthanasia Handbook. You’re aware a copy was on the bedside table. And if Raeburn was HIV-positive, perhaps that, plus other pressures, led him to take his own life.”

“His father and sister are adamant that there’s no way he’d do that.”

Skyes intervened. “The sleeping pills were prescribed. The family insist it’s a tragic accident.”

Carol felt a thread of impatience, but she was careful not to let it show. “My suggestion is that we expedite the report to the coroner, and let him rule on the matter.”

Sykes stated authoritatively, “The media’s a problem-”

The Commissioner interrupted. “The Minister’s concerned about adverse publicity.”

Sykes said smoothly, “Absolute discretion is required, of course.”

The Commissioner flashed him a look of active dislike. “That was an unnecessary comment, Sykes. Inspector Ashton is quite aware that any mention of Raeburn’s HIV status will be on a strict need-to-know basis.”

Sykes, unabashed, straightened his tie. “I meant lower-ranked officers. Not Inspector Ashton. I’m sure you’ll agree anyone working on the case must be specifically instructed.”

“Yes. Yes,” said the Commissioner impatiently. He leaned his bulk back in his chair. “Carol, you’re to head the investigation and take whatever damage control measures are necessary. You’ve got good relations with the media and I expect you to use them. Don’t need to tell you what will happen if Raeburn’s HIV status gets out. We want to spare the family that.”

Carol wanted to say with bitter sarcasm, Why not advise the family to pretend the virus was medically acquired? That’ll gain shocked sympathy, not loathing and disgust

Sykes was saying smoothly, “It would be better for everyone if it’s kept quiet. And the general public don’t want to know about his private life, do they? Destroy an image. I mean, Collis Raeburn was practically an icon. Yes?”

Carol’s opinion of the public was less charitable. People had a voracious appetite for any titillating scandal, and if Australia’s golden-voiced tenor had secrets to hide, his public would consider it only fair that these should be revealed for everyone’s shocked appreciation.

The Commissioner smoothed his trademark bushy eyebrows with a forefinger. “Carol, what’s your caseload at the moment?”

“It’s okay. I’ll get onto Raeburn straight away.”

“I want this quick, neat and tidy. And I’ll have a word with your Chief Inspector… I want you reporting direct to me on this. Any problems, I want to hear about them. Right?” As she nodded, he added curtly, “Need Sykes?”

Carol was just as straightforward. “I don’t think so.”

“If you do, there’s no problem. The Minister’s pushing for this to be tied up as soon as possible. You’ll need to talk to Raeburn’s family, but leave it until you’ve had time to get on top of everything before you contact his father or sister.”

Sykes insisted on shaking hands with her again at the office door, holding the clasp just a little too long. “If I can be of assistance in some way, then you must call on me, Inspector, at any time.”

She gave him a cool, level glance. “Thank you, Mr. Sykes.”

“At any time…”

Mark Bourke was amused when she came into his spartan office to tell him about the meeting. “Don’t want to hurt your feelings, Carol, but bringing you in to handle a probable suicide will almost certainly make the media wonder why. And that’s what they’re trying to avoid, isn’t it-an investigative journalist or two sniffing around?”

“The Commissioner commands, I follow.”

“Wise career move.”

“Mark, does Pat move in opera circles?”

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