She began to twist her black opal ring. “I don’t need this.”

He cocked an eyebrow. “So, Carol, forgetting Bannister who’s just an irritation, what’s your professional opinion as opposed to your instinct? Is it suicide, murder or an unfortunate accident?”

“Probably suicide-but I was brought in for a purpose, and I don’t think it’s just because I’m supposed to be good at PR.”

“Wanted someone with a higher profile than Bannister?”

“Could be. Which means the aim might be more publicity, not less. Why would that be, do you think?”

“Want me to do some digging?”

“Please. But be subtle, Mark.”

His grin had returned. “Subtle,” he said, “is my middle name.”

After he had gone she read through the statements of the hotel staff and closely studied the photographs of the room. Collis Raeburn had checked into his usual luxury hotel near Circular Quay and had gone up to his room at 5:30 P.M. He’d unpacked his clothes and put them away, called room service and ordered an early meal and a bottle of wine. About nine he arranged for a large pot of coffee to be left outside the door and had instructed the desk to not put through any calls to his room. The person who’d delivered the coffee to his floor remembered seeing the DO NOT DISTURB sign. He didn’t knock, but left the coffee by the door. Several of the room photos showed the silver coffee pot and a cup and saucer sitting on a low table near easy chairs arranged at the window to take advantage of the beautiful view of Sydney Harbour.

Carol fanned out the photographs and considered them again. Too neat. Too theatrical. And there should be a note.

She frowned over a series of shots of the room, bed and body taken from different angles. Collis Raeburn was casually dressed: jeans, a loose cotton sweater and sports shoes. The investigating officer on the scene had noted that Raeburn had unpacked his suitcase and put his clothes away neatly, yet two of the photographs showed a necktie on the carpet near the foot of the bed, crumpled as though it had been carelessly tossed there.

In one extreme close-up of Collis Raeburn’s face, his cheek was nestled deep into the comfort of a pillow, eyes closed, mouth slightly open. She remembered vividly the last time she had seen this dead face full of life: a television special hosted by the diminutive but formidable Madeline Shipley. The program traced his life and career, starting with his first singing experiences as a boy soprano in a church choir and interviewing important people in his life. Raeburn had sung some of his most famous arias, his mouth curved in a half-smile that his singing teacher, a pragmatic middle-aged woman, described clinically to the camera as, “Essential to the production of a clear, forward tone.” Popular far beyond opera circles, his voice caressed, warmed, captivated. And the joy with which he sang vitalized the most hackneyed song, the most familiar aria. Only in his early thirties, he was approaching his prime as a singer, his best years still ahead of him when his voice would mature and darken to suit the most demanding roles of grand opera.

Still staring at his face, she absently picked up the phone on its second ring. “Carol Ashton.” She leaned back, smiling. “Darling, I’ll be late too. I’ve been landed with the Collis Raeburn case. Let’s get a pizza delivered when we both make it home.”

As she replaced the receiver her imagination vividly held Sybil’s red hair, the line of her jaw, the way her eyes crinkled when she laughed. But there were darker things-the note of impatience so often in Sybil’s voice, the tension that had grown between them lately, the resentments that Carol tried to ignore.

She shrugged. She didn’t want to think about that now.


The manager of the five-star hotel where Raeburn had died was a small, neat man with a pencil mustache and an affable, but restrained manner. He ushered Carol and Anne to seats, then retreated behind his mahogany desk. “Well, Inspector, we both know that now and then…” He paused delicately, “… a guest may take the unfortunate step of…”


He seemed relieved the word was out. “Yes. And of course, we always cooperate fully with the authorities, whilst respecting the privacy of our guests.”

“What procedures are followed when someone dies?”

“Generally we call for a doctor to be certain that the guest is… deceased. There have been a few unfortunate cases where staff have reacted precipitately…”

Carol saw Anne hide a smile. Recently there had been an embarrassing incident where hotel staff had found an international pop star apparently dead in his suite, and one enterprising member of the management had leaked this scoop to the media, unaware that the guest was in a deep drug-induced coma, but still very much alive. The resultant publicity and threats of legal action by the star had necessitated swift damage control by the hotel chain and had blighted career prospects for several members of staff.

“… then, of course, we contact the police and, where appropriate, the next of kin. You’ll understand, Inspector, it’s always a time where discretion is vital.”

“I’d like a step-by-step outline of Collis Raeburn’s stay, right through to the removal of the body.” When the manager seemed about to protest, Carol added, “I’m quite aware you’ve been through this before, but I would appreciate it if you could outline it again.”

The manager repressed a sigh. “Naturally, Inspector, we want to cooperate fully.” He referred to notes in an embossed leather folder. “Let me see… Mr. Raeburn checked in at five-thirty on Saturday, asking for his usual room with a view of the Opera House and harbor. He arranged for room service to deliver a meal at seven-thirty.” He looked up. “Are you interested in what he ate?”

“Of course.”

“All he requested was a tuna salad and a bottle of white wine. No dessert, coffee only. I’ve spoken to the waiter who delivered the meal and he said that Mr. Raeburn seemed quite relaxed and happy.”

“Yes. We have a statement from him.”

The manager cleared his throat. “The last contact the hotel had with Mr. Raeburn was just after nine o’clock. He called to order a large pot of coffee, and also asked that no calls be put through to his room until further notice. The waiter-the same one who’d delivered the meal-saw the DND on the handle, and, naturally, didn’t knock, but left the tray with the coffee outside the door.”

“How long would a Do Not Disturb be honored?”

“Normally until after checkout time, which is noon, unless other arrangements have been made. If at this point the person didn’t respond to a telephone call from the desk, a decision to enter the room would be made at the discretion of the Duty Manager. This didn’t apply in the case of Mr. Raeburn because he was booked in for several days. What happened here was that the room attendants reported to the Housekeeping Supervisor that they couldn’t enter the room to make the bed and change the towels. This was logged in the housekeeping department, and brought to the attention of the Duty Manager when the evening shift came on the next night.”

“None of your staff had noticed any activity from the point where Raeburn ordered the coffee at nine?”

“Nothing. There were no calls in or out, no messages taken, and no one made any inquiries at the desk.” He looked professionally regretful. “I’m afraid Mr. Raeburn was very careful not to be disturbed during his last hours.”

“The tray with the remains of the tuna salad wasn’t in the room. When would that have been collected?”

The manager gave a suggestion of a shrug. “Presumably Mr. Raeburn put it outside his room. Any staff involved in room service are instructed to clear trays immediately when they see them.”

“We know the tray wasn’t there when the coffee was left by the door.”

A glimmer of impatience showed on the manager’s face. “It may have been collected earlier, or later-there’s no record kept of such things.”

As Anne flipped a page of her notebook, Carol said, “Anyone could have gone to the room without checking in at the desk.”

“Yes, of course. There’s always movement in the lobby of a hotel. But the person would need to know the room

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