He couldn’t prevent an indulgent smile. “My Patricia? Her position at the Art Gallery certainly puts her in with the in-crowd. Part of her job, if nothing else. You looking for some background?”

“Background, gossip-anything. And I’m interested in the Raeburn family, the father and daughter. Tell Pat it’s quite unofficial. I just want her general impressions.”

He leaned back and put his hands behind his head. “Plus who’s doing what to whom?”

She matched his grin. “That too, of course.” Her smile faded as she thought, Unknowingly infecting each other? She said, “Until he had a blood test it seems clear Raeburn wasn’t aware he could be passing the HIV virus to sexual partners.”

Bourke rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “If he was having unprotected sex…” He grimaced. “Unless he told them after he got the results, there’s some very bad news waiting for a few people, and if we follow orders, we can’t even drop a broad hint.”

“But, Mark,” she protested, “if he has infected someone, then that person can be passing it on to someone else. This isn’t herpes we’re talking about, it’s the very real chance of getting AIDS.” When he didn’t look impressed, she went on, “You know it’s not an exclusively homosexual disease. Anyone can be at risk.”

“I don’t need a lecture,” he said, half-smiling to ease the impact of his words.

But Carol, with a jolt, realized he had, in effect, chastised her. Normally she would have attempted a witty but sharp rejoinder. The sudden tension between them puzzled her. She chatted for a few moments to reestablish their usual relationship, then went back to her office.

Anne Newsome was waiting for her. “Here’s the result of the post mortem and the preliminary report.”

“Have you read it?”

“Yes. I glanced through it.”

“Good. Since I won’t have Mark exclusively on this-he’ll be tying up the odds and ends of a few outstanding items in my caseload-I’ll need you to assist me, especially with the interviews.”

Carol couldn’t miss Anne’s faint flush of pleasure, but the young constable maintained an appropriately professional air. “I took this message for you.”

Carol frowned at Anne’s neat, rounded writing. “Graeme Welton?”

“He called a few minutes ago. Said it was urgent.”

“I’ll call him.” As Anne turned to go, she added, “I want you to check out Collis Raeburn’s finances-any debts he had, what he did with his money. If you need any help, ask Mark.”

Alone, Carol leaned back in her chair to consider the message from Graeme Welton. An avant-garde composer, he basked in publicity and had a talent for self-promotion. His most recent work, The Sardonic Song of the Computer, a full-length oratorio with God played by a super-computer, had not only jangled critics’ musical sensibilities and outraged organized religion in general, but had also upset computer aficionados.

She punched numbers into the phone. “Mr. Welton? This is Carol Ashton. I’m returning your call.”

“Inspector. Good. Need to see you immediately.” He had a high, nasal voice and a snappy, irritated tone. “It’s about Collis’s suicide. Have information you might find interesting.” Without waiting for a reply, he went on, “Be at the Con this afternoon, lecturing on composition. Could see you there about three. Suit you?”

Carol sat frowning after he had terminated their call. She remembered some story about an opera Welton was supposed to be working on-something to do with the infamous trial and conviction of Lindy Chamberlain, who claimed that her missing baby had been carried off by a dingo. Welton certainly had written music specifically for Collis Raeburn, including a surprisingly melodic Republic’s Dawning commissioned by a rich anti-monarchist and sung by Raeburn to a huge television audience tuned to watch the spectacular fireworks over Sydney on Australia Day last January.

How did Welton know so quickly that she had been put in charge of the case?

Shrugging, she turned to the post mortem report. Collis Raeburn, who had been rapidly attaining international superstardom, had been reduced by the State Morgue to a case number and a concise recital of facts. Everything about him seemed relentlessly average: height, weight, physical condition. His extraordinary talent, the glorious voice that had captivated so many people, had been diminished by the pathologist’s scalpel to healthy vocal cords and a superior lung capacity. He had ingested, the report stated succinctly, amylobarbitone, pethidine and alcohol in sufficient quantities to cause his death, although what had actually killed him was suffocation, as, after he had slid into unconsciousness, he had choked on his own vomit. His stomach contained the partly digested remnants of a light meal. Time of death was difficult to establish, first, because it wasn’t possible to determine exactly when he ate the meal, and second, because the air-conditioning in the room had been set on full, which affected rigor mortis. All things taken into consideration, the forensic pathologist was willing to set the parameters at somewhere between nine on Saturday night and one o’clock on Sunday morning.

She shuffled through the photographs taken at the scene, pausing over a close-up of Raeburn’s long, sensitive fingers slightly curled as they brushed the thick carpet. The overturned tumbler glinted in the flash, the stain of spilled whiskey was faintly visible, scattered tablets fanned near his relaxed hand.

Mark Bourke put his head around the door. “Carol? Got something for you.”

“Look at this photo, Mark. It looks staged to me.”

“Raeburn was the theatrical type.”

“You think he arranged the glass and the pills like this, then managed to fall unconscious with one hand draped artistically as part of the scene?”

Bourke sat down and stretched his long legs. “Just the way it happened. Takes your aesthetic eye, Carol, to see the artistry.”

“And I don’t like the fact there’s no suicide note.”

“Carol, there often isn’t.”

“It doesn’t feel right. As you say, he was theatrical. It seems to me he’d have wanted the last word.”

Bourke’s smile was cynical. “Sure there wasn’t a note, and it was embarrassing, so it’s disappeared? Wouldn’t be the first time a little judicious tampering occurs at the scene of a suicide.”

“The two who discovered him didn’t mention seeing a note.” She handed him the preliminary report. “Have you read this?”

“Yes. To me it’s classic suicide, and efficient, except he forgot to take the precaution of adding a nausea tablet to stop himself from vomiting. The nicely lethal combination of sleeping tablets, a narcotic and alcohol means he wasn’t making a staged cry for help. He was deadly serious.”

“There was a copy of The Euthanasia Handbook in the room.”

He spread his hands. “Well, there you are, then. He has a textbook to check he’s doing it right.” He grinned wickedly. “Maybe the publishers can use it in their advertising-a famous satisfied customer’s always good for business.”

“It’s too neat. I don’t like it.”

He shook his head. “If you’re suggesting murder, you’ll open an awfully restless can of worms. He was HIV- positive. That alone will galvanize the media if they get wind of it-and the longer his death’s a news item, the more likely it is that someone will dig it up. Isn’t your job to get this off the front pages as quickly as possible?”

“I’m not altogether sure what my job’s supposed to be, Mark. What I do know is that there’s some hidden agenda, and I’m going to find out what it is.”

“You’ve got another complication. The word’s around that Bannister, the guy you replaced on the case, isn’t happy. Says it’s political influence.”

“It is.”

“Yes, we all know that. But he’s still bitching. Actually, I think he’s put in an official complaint.”

Impatient, Carol threw the photograph down. “The Commissioner appointed me because the Minister for Police told him to, so where’s a complaint going to get Bannister?”

Bourke was smiling at her vehemence. “Calm down, Carol. Don’t take it personally. I’d take it through channels too, if I were him. Just thought you should know that Bannister would be delighted to find something to hang a real complaint on, so watch your back.”

“You’re kidding me.”

His smile faded. “No, I’m not. Bannister’s new to the South Region, but I’ve had a bit to do with him over the years. He causes trouble, and none of the dirt clings to him. Efficient, ambitious and resentful. Probably the worst he could do is cause some aggravation, but it might be worth keeping an eye on him.”

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