Authors: Gabrielle Lord
In her own office, she turned on the computer and checked her diary. She knew she was a good investigator and had built up
a successful practice over twelve years, but contracts for private investigators were becoming increasingly difficult to secure
as insurance companies had found cheaper ways to chase many of their cases. Briefs from some of her friends in the law were
also pretty thin on the ground of late.
On the mantelpiece over what had once been an open fireplace, a tiny toy kitten stood crookedly. Once, when the red button
on his collar was pressed the kitten would trundle along, invariably falling over after the first few steps, to continue waving
his stiff little legs in the air. Gemma’s hand closed over the toy’s furry rigidity. Steve had given it to her, back when
they were a couple. She jumped in shock, almost dropping it as a final surge from the dying batteries made it squirm in her
hand as if it were alive.
She hadn’t heard from Steve since shortly after Rafi’s birth. He’d taken long service leave from the New South Wales Police
and she had no idea where he was. All she knew was that his child-support payments for Rafi automatically arrived, adding
over a thousand dollars a month to her bank account. That, at least, she could count on.
you, Stevie? The question flew unbidden from her heart.
After dropping Rafi at daycare and resisting the urge to snatch him back when he turned his reproachful, tear-filled eyes
on her, Gemma drove home and settled down to work, drawing up a list of calls she’d make later in the day, reminding contacts
in the insurance industry that she was working again. When that was done, she made breakfast and coffee, then gathered the
last few days’ newspapers and took them into her office where she sat in a comfortable chair under the window to read through
them as she ate.
Blitzkrieg killer – again!
’ screamed a headline from the previous week. She read on. The article gave a few unclassified details about the two murders
Angie and the rest of the Homicide team were investigating.
Police say they have no leads in the murders of two young Sydney women. The body of Rachel Starr, 21, was found in a car at
the scene of a motor vehicle accident. Later investigation determined that Ms Starr was dead prior to the accident. Ms Starr,
student who worked as a part-time model for several Sydney art schools, was last seen by her partner on the evening of 9 June
when she set off for a job
Last week, the body of 23-year-old Marie-Louise Palier, a risk analyst with Beckie & Griffin Associates, was found washed
up on Maroubra Beach, south of the notorious suicide spot at The Gap. Police have confirmed similarities linking it to the
earlier death of Rachel Starr and are treating both deaths as suspicious. Police are continuing their enquiries
Gemma wondered what new information Angie might be able to share after the pathologist had spoken to the team. No doubt she’d
hear all about it tomorrow.
With the report was the photograph of a scholarly looking man with a beard and glasses. Gemma read the caption.
The type of obliteration of the person’s identity seen on these victims,” forensic psychiatrist Dr Jeremy Hungerford said,
“can suggest at least two explanations. First, the blitzkrieg type of attack suggests that the perpetrator is inexperienced
in what it takes to kill someone, so that overkill takes place, resulting in far too many violent blows to ensure death. The
other possibility is that the victim was known to the killer
She picked up the phone to call her sister Kit, who lived two beaches south of Phoenix Bay. Gemma hoped that Kit’s expertise
as a bioenergetic psychotherapist might help her prepare for the meeting with Angie. From her small cottage beside the coastal
walk, walled off from the southerly wind, Kit worked at freeing up people’s constricted bodies as well as their minds.
‘Morning, Kittycat,’ Gemma greeted her sister when she answered. ‘Have you got a minute?’
‘Hi, Gems. How are you? And how is my divine nephew?’
‘We’re both really good. Your divine nephew is settling into daycare and I’m wishing that I could sleep about twenty hours
straight!’ She paused before adding, ‘Can you put your psychology hat on for a moment? What can you tell me about violent
attacks on women where the face is totally destroyed?’ Gemma read out the lines from the psychiatrist’s brief comments.
‘Hatred,’ her sister said, after a moment’s reflection. ‘Hatred and rage and the desire to wipe someone off the face of the
earth – like in the Stalinist era, where images of “non persons” were removed from records and photographs. That’s self-evident.
But more than that, just as the psychiatrist said, it can often indicate that the victim and killer knew each other, possibly
they were romantically involved at one stage. Do you remember that case where two women sleeping in a double bunk in a caravan
were murdered by a man who leaned through the window with a tomahawk? One girl sustained a fatal hit across the forehead,
and the other girl’s face was pretty much obliterated. It turned out that the killer was a vengeful ex-lover of the second
girl. He had no axe to grind – pardon the pun – with the first girl, he just wanted her out of the way while he went to town
on his ex.’
‘That’s right,’ said Gemma, slowly nodding. ‘It’s coming back to me. That was about ten, twelve years ago? Bathurst, Orange
‘Yes, that’s right. So I’d be looking through the past boyfriends. I guess the police will be checking out past connections?’
Kit asked as Gemma heard the buzzer outside her security grille.
‘Gotta go. My ten o’clock appointment has arrived. I’ll pass on your thoughts to Angie – they confirm what the shrink was
saying. Come over and see us this week? I’ll ask Angie too. No doubt she’ll want to talk with you.’
The buzzer sounded again. Delphine Tolmacheff, right on time.
Gemma opened the front door. ‘Please come in, Mrs Tolmacheff. Sorry to keep you waiting,’ she said, stepping back to allow
the tall, elegantly dressed woman to come inside. Gemma glimpsed a sporty red Audi parked on the road above.
As Gemma ushered her into the office, Delphine Tolmacheff hesitated then walked in, looked around and sat on the small armchair
Gemma indicated. A gaunt, once beautiful woman whose fine bones, sleek hairstyle, designer suit and crocodile-skin briefcase
all spoke of class and money, Delphine sat anxiously on the edge of the chair, clutching the briefcase to her breast. Gemma
sat in another armchair beside rather than behind the desk.
Delphine Tolmacheff hunched over with downcast eyes, raising her head only when Gemma started asking for her details – address,
more contact numbers. Gemma put down her pen. ‘How can I help you, Mrs Tolmacheff?’
There was a pause. ‘It’s my husband. I think—’ Delphine started to say. Then she compressed her lips until they disappeared,
holding back the tears. And something else. Gemma sensed a concentrated anger, an internal pressure.
A case for her Mandate service, Gemma wondered? Mandate offered clients the chance to gather evidence about suspected infidelity
on the part of their spouse or lover, and occasionally the whereabouts of runaway children. The work was hard and boring,
demanding long hours of surveillance – following targets, sitting in her car watching cafes, motels, workplaces and houses,
gathering evidence, getting it on video, compiling a dossier of infidelity or misbehaviour, until her clients had everything
they needed to prove their case. Sometimes they would deny her
findings, refuse to believe the evidence, and construct elaborate defences and rationalisations instead, to explain away the
Gemma remained silent, waiting for the woman to speak again.
‘I married – fairly recently – about ten months ago,’ she said finally. ‘I met my husband on a dating website eighteen months
ago. We had a long electronic courtship – emails and chat lines – before we physically met. During that time I spent a lot
of money on a new wardrobe and even a facelift—’ she indicated her face ‘—at the most expensive cosmetic surgery hospital
in town – Sapphire Springs Spa … total luxury – except for the mosquitoes!’
Gemma raised an eyebrow in surprise at Delphine’s mention of the well-known resort. A journalist she knew, Janet Chancy, was
staying at the spa right now, researching and writing a piece on the services offered there, but mostly she was trying to
get a story about the revolutionary therapy the clinic was using on its facelift clients, DNA Accelerated Healing or DiNAH.
It was rumoured to have dramatically improved the treatment of post-operative patients, with greatly reduced bruising, infection
rates and other potential hazards.
‘You know the place?’ asked Delphine, noticing Gemma’s expression of recognition.
‘I’ve heard about their new DiNAH therapy.’
‘I didn’t have DiNAH,’ replied Delphine quickly. ‘It was too expensive. I heard a lot about it there, though. It’s part of
the new wave of personalised therapies, tailored to each individual. No more one-size-fits-all. They use the clients’ own
DNA to speed up recovery times. There’s also some hugely expensive growth factor serum developed by a Russian from embryonic
you know that embryos don’t scar? They heal perfectly. Anyway, I bumped into an old friend, Magda Simmonds, who’d had DiNAH
and she looked marvellous. She didn’t have that facelift look at all. I had a dreadful time with bruising and scarring. But
she’d sailed through the whole process, she said, although it cost her as much as a house in Sydney.’
Gemma focused on the woman’s face. The skin on Mrs Tolmacheff’s neck and arms was that of a woman in her late fifties whereas
her face looked twenty years younger.
‘This was my husband’s profile on the dating site,’ Delphine said, pulling a print-out from her briefcase. ‘This is what hooked
me. Read it and you’ll see why.’
Gemma took it and started to read: ‘
Fit, active, financially independent and sophisticated European gent, well travelled and educated, seeking soul mate. Could
it be you? Are you someone who understands the importance of tenderness and fidelity? Here’s what I love: romantic dinners
by candlelight, champagne, quality lovemaking (no one-night stands, thanks), intimate soul-searching conversations, great
music, reading and discussing literature. (I’m a frustrated novelist!) The woman I’m seeking is someone I wish I’d met twenty
years ago, someone who has made her own way in the world and is now looking for a mature and loving relationship, someone
with the capacity to inspire me, be my muse – maybe I’ll finally get to write my novel. If you’re this woman, and don’t have
any objections to marriage – if that’s how it turns out – with a stable, loving and discerning man, I urge you to contact
Gemma scanned it once more. He sure ticked every box, she thought. Very clever.
‘Go on,’ she encouraged gently.
‘It took me some time to realise that my new husband’s lavish lifestyle was funded by huge debts. At first, I believed him
when he told me he had a problem with liquidity – that he was waiting for a couple of very valuable properties to be sold
and that was taking time because of the slowdown in the property market …’
She looked away. She’s ashamed, Gemma realised.
‘I offered him a loan – quite a large one; I was happy to – just to tide him over until the properties were sold.’ Turning
back, her liquid eyes pleaded from her strained face. ‘After all, he was my
. And eventually the properties would be sold, or so I thought. Months later I found out there wouldn’t be any money coming
from the properties. They both sold at a loss with huge unpaid mortgages, leaving even more debt.’ Delphine looked as if she
were about to burst into tears.
‘It wasn’t too long before I realised that he’d married me for my money,’ she whispered. ‘I’ll never see the money I loaned
‘There are legal avenues you could pursue,’ said Gemma. ‘I’m not sure I’m the one to advise you on this. You should talk to
a solicitor. Or the police.’
Delphine Tolmacheff shook her head. ‘I’ve already written off the money. I don’t have the energy for a court case over it.
The thing is, Miss Lincoln—’
‘Gemma – please.’
‘Gemma. I still can’t believe it. That I’ve been taken in by a crook. I’ve built up and managed a successful business; I’ve
worked in very responsible and highly paid corporate positions; I thought I was astute and discriminating … I can’t believe
what’s happened to me. I now discover he’s been married
before. He lied to me. He told me he’d never been married.’
She made a small, choking sound, clearly biting back grief, tears, pain and anger.
‘Take your time,’ Gemma said, gently pushing a box of tissues on the desk towards Delphine, who leaned forward to take one,
seemingly grateful for the small distraction.
‘And now, on top of everything, he’s having an affair,’ she blurted.
Gemma frowned. If Delphine knew that already, what did she want with Mandate? She strained to hear as Delphine’s voice dropped
to a whisper.
‘Miss Lincoln. Gemma. It’s not just the money and the affair. It’s much worse than that. Much, much worse.’
She gathered herself, flipped the briefcase open and drew out a large manila folder. Placing the briefcase on the floor, she
opened the folder and pulled out two documents, which she placed on the desk.
‘Please take a look at these.’
Gemma picked up the first one. It was a photocopy of an insurance policy for Angelo Tolmacheff dated two months ago. ‘Your
husband?’ she asked.
Gemma quickly flicked through the pages, noticing that the policy guaranteed a two million dollar payout in the event of Angelo
‘Angelo insisted on taking out insurance cover just after we married,’ Delphine explained, her voice bitter, ‘so that I would
be cared for in the event of his death. It was another of his grand gestures. I was very touched at the time. But look at
it. The name of the beneficiary. The money goes to some other woman!’
Gemma read the name on the policy: Adel Milani.
Before she could ask anything more, Delphine spoke. ‘The last time I saw this policy,
name was there. Now I find it’s been changed to this other woman!’ She almost choked on the last two words. ‘And still it
gets worse. Look at the second policy.’
Gemma studied the other document, her eyes widening at the name of the beneficiary. In the event of the accidental death of
his wife, Angelo Tolmacheff would receive
‘It’s an accident-only policy,’ said Delphine. ‘No need for me to be medically examined – that way, he could keep it all under
wraps. And look at the name of the insurance company. It’s not one of the usual companies. These people specialise in big
payouts but the downside is the atrociously large premiums the policies demand. That’s what he must have done with the money
I loaned him – made the first of the premiums on this policy. Knowing that there wouldn’t be too many more falling due before
he … before I …’ Her voice trailed off.
Gemma looked up at the woman opposite her. ‘How did you get hold of these?’ she asked.