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Authors: Gabrielle Lord

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BOOK: Death by Beauty
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‘Darling Rafi, what are you looking at?’ She went to the window and terror suddenly gripped her heart. What if Litchfield
tried to hurt Rafi? She thought of the unexplained noise that had woken her the previous morning. She pulled the gauze curtain
across, looked out the window and checked the grille. It was locked securely and only she and Mike had the keys. Beyond the
glass, she could just see the climbing rose bush she’d planted beneath the window. Beyond it was the small front garden and
courtyard area. It was dark and empty. The residents of the other three flats seemed to be in for the night. She dropped the
curtain again and hurried back to Rafi. He mumbled something but now seemed to be half asleep. She picked him up and rocked
him gently as she carried him to the living room, glancing up as she passed a little plaster cherub hanging on the wall. ‘Look
after him, angel,’ she whispered.

Mike sipped his scotch and watched her as she sat with Rafi, now sleeping soundly, in the armchair opposite him.

‘What’s wrong?’ he said quietly.

‘Rafi was awake when I went in. I had the sense that something had happened. He was looking across to the window. As if he’d
seen something – someone.’

Mike made the connection and she loved him for it. ‘It’s okay, Gemma, darling,’ he said, leaning over and placing a hand on
her arm. ‘One of the reasons I’m here is to make sure that no one ever harms you or Rafi.’

Gemma leaned to kiss him. ‘You’re a good man, Mike.’

He smiled and walked down the hallway to unlock the front door. For the next few minutes Gemma heard him checking the windows
and doors. As she held Rafi she couldn’t quite get the fear out of her mind.

‘It’s brisk outside,’ Mike said as he came in. ‘What are you thinking about?’ he asked as he saw her staring across the room.

‘I was thinking of Superman,’ she said.

‘It was nothing,’ Mike joked. ‘All I did was walk around the place.’

Gemma laughed, shaking her head. ‘The reason why Superman never married or had children,’ she explained, ‘was that he didn’t
want to give the enemy any hostages. Now I understand that. Once there was only me to think about. Now there’s Rafi.’

Mike sat beside her, putting an arm around her shoulders, squeezing her and Rafi close. ‘I put the alarm on.’

She responded to his warmth and snuggled closer. ‘Thanks, Mike. I hope you don’t mind that I saw Steve tonight.’

‘He was warning you. I guess I’d do the same in his place. Might’ve been better to just call you, though.’

‘Not with something like that,’ she said defensively. ‘Face to face is better.’

Mike grunted, noncommittal. Then he continued, ‘Speaking of cops, Nick Cleary rang me today. He’s ex-Federal and very smart.
And we get along well. He’s setting up a business in IT security and cybercrime, providing specialty services for law enforcement
agencies. He asked if I’d be interested in working with him.’

‘But they have their own in-house experts,’ said Gemma, frowning.

‘Forensic testing’s been outsourced and mobile speed camera systems have recently moved out of police hands too. We both reckon
there’s a niche market in this sort of specialised computer programming. He’s done his homework and I’m researching it, too.’

‘What do you think you’ll do? This would be a big change for you.’ And it would mean we couldn’t work together anymore, Gemma
thought.

‘I don’t know yet. There’s a lot more I need to discuss with Nick before I make up my mind,’ said Mike. ‘In the meantime,
let’s take this little man back to bed.’

CHAPTER 8

Mike had left before daybreak to track his suspect petrol-tanker driver. Before going out, he said, only half joking, ‘Don’t
open the door to anyone while I’m gone, especially an old crone selling rosy apples, okay?’ Then he kissed her. ‘Be very careful,
Gems.’

‘I promise.’

Over breakfast, with Rafi crawling around the legs of the furniture in the living room, Gemma opened up her laptop to check
the news. Googling to see if there had been any updates on the murders of the young women, a familiar name jumped out at her.

Socialite’s suicide shocks family
’ ran the headline. ‘
The suicide yesterday of well-known charity worker and socialite Magda Simmonds has shocked her family and friends. “She had
everything to live for,” said her son, Adrian. “My mother had just bought a new house in the Blue Mountains and was looking
forward to spending
time there. We had a big housewarming party planned for next weekend with all the grandchildren. There was a wedding on the
horizon; she was going to marry the new man in her life. Instead, we have a funeral to arrange. We are all completely devastated
.”’

Gemma looked at the photograph of Magda’s son, distress crumpling his face. Magda Simmonds was the woman who had looked so
wonderful after her facelift, Gemma recalled. She’d spent all that money and then killed herself. The human heart has secrets
that even the closest relatives can’t know.

Her ringing mobile interrupted her thoughts, and it took her a few moments to realise who was calling. Delphine Tolmacheff,
her voice distorted with tears.

‘I saw him in the mirror this morning at breakfast. I was sitting in the dining room and I saw him,’ she sobbed. ‘I swear
he was trying to creep up behind me – he had my scarf in his hands. I jumped up, pretending I’d just remembered something
and he pretended he was bringing me my scarf because the morning was chilly. Gemma, I’m terrified. He’s not going to wait
until we go hiking. He could kill me any time!’

Gemma felt her frustration rise. ‘For heaven’s sake, Delphine. Why are you still in the house? Pack up and leave
now
! Move into a hotel. Go and stay with friends. You can’t stay there. I thought we’d agreed that you’d move out immediately.
Do it right now.’

‘Yes, yes. You’re right. I don’t know why I didn’t. I suppose there’s a part of me that still can’t believe that someone could
be so wicked.’

‘You better believe it, Delphine. Get out now!’

The woman was hopeless, Gemma thought.

‘But he’ll track me down. He’s my husband. He has access to my affairs. He might even be having me watched, followed.’

‘I think you need a bodyguard. You’ve got the money for that sort of protection. I can’t do it but I can recommend someone
who can. At least for the time being, until we get something on him. Delphine, I want you to move out of that house immediately,
and when you’re safely settled in somewhere that he doesn’t know about, give me a call and we’ll organise what to do next.
Okay?’

‘Please help me!’

‘I will, but you must leave this minute. And don’t let him know where you’re going.’

After ending the call, Gemma noted the conversation in her records and then rescued the picture of her mother that stood on
the table in the hallway from Rafi, who was attempting to eat the silver frame.

‘How did you get that?’ she asked him. ‘Did you pull yourself up?’

Rafi roared with displeasure, his face wrinkled, tears of disappointment on his fat cheeks as she put the photograph back
on the table.

‘Oh, you clever boy,’ she said, whisking him up, dancing around with him and snuggling into his neck, making silly farting
noises against his soft skin. Within seconds he was laughing, his grumpiness forgotten.

After delivering Rafi to daycare, Gemma made a number of phone calls to people she knew in the business, trying to find a
suitable candidate to protect Delphine Tolmacheff.

Mike had come home for a break, so she joined him for lunch then pulled on her running shoes, intending on a quick run up
and back to the cemetery that covered a hillside near her home. She was almost at the door when her desk phone rang, and she
doubled back and picked it up.

‘Gemma Lincoln?’

‘That’s right,’ she said to the man at the end of the line.

‘I was given your card by a friend of mine, Minkie Montreau,’ he continued. ‘She’s recommended you highly. My name is Ambrose
Cobcroft. My fiancée, Magda Simmonds, took her own life yesterday.’

Minkie Montreau, Gemma remembered, was a wealthy client she’d helped some time ago.

‘Mr Cobcroft,’ said Gemma, ‘I’m so sorry for your loss. I read about it this morning. How can I help you?’

‘I’m not quite sure yet. But I want to talk to you. Magda’s suicide just doesn’t make sense. The note she left didn’t make
sense either. I can’t accept it. There’s got to be a reason. People don’t do things like that without a reason. She was looking
forward to our wedding and our trip abroad. I’m calling to ask if you would look into her suicide. Just in case there is something
that we’ve all missed.’

Gemma paused. ‘Are you suggesting the possibility of foul play?’

‘I’m not suggesting anything. But I will never forgive myself if I don’t examine this tragedy from every angle. I love Magda
and she loved me. She had everything to live for.’

‘I think I’d better make time to come and see you,’ said Gemma, ‘before I agree to this case.’

‘Of course.’ He gave her an address in Vaucluse and they made a time to meet.

Later in the afternoon after calling Mike to check he could still pick Rafi up, Gemma drove to the address in Bondi Beach
where Julian Phillips, Marie-Louise Palier’s boyfriend, shared a flat with two other men in an old dark-brick block on one
of the streets that ran at a right angle to the beach.

She took a short diversion down to Campbell Parade and found an impossibly lucky parking spot. She walked to the edge of the
promenade and looked out over the creamy curve of the beach, the breakers rolling in on top of a gentle swell and a perfect
line of fluffy clouds decorating the expansive blue sky.

The very sight of it opens my mind, she thought. The sight of this beach and the sky above it lifted her heart. ‘Sydney by
the water,’ a friend had once said to her, ‘there’s nowhere else to be.’

There were only a few swimmers in the water and a scattering of sunbakers lay on their towels, soaking up the soft, late-winter
warmth. She breathed in the salty air and felt her batteries recharging. What fun to bring Rafi here in summer to join the
throng and to chase him through the edge of the foaming waves, she thought.

She went back to her car and continued on to Julian Phillips’ address. An enormous frangipani tree out the front was just
showing the tiny curved claws that were the beginning of new leaves, and even though the beach was out of sight, she could
hear the crashing surf. Beach towels hanging from the top floor balconies and the surfboards leaning against walls went some
way to brighten the ugly 1930s block.

Gemma recognised the man who answered the door of flat two from the photographs Angie had emailed her.

‘Julian Phillips?’

‘Yes. What do you want?’ he answered, warily.

‘My name is Gemma Lincoln,’ she said, passing him one of her business cards. ‘Detective Sergeant Angie McDonald suggested
I might talk to you concerning the death of your girlfriend Marie-Louise Palier. I’m very sorry to be meeting you in these
circumstances. And of course you’re under no obligation to speak with me if you don’t want to.’

‘You’d better come in,’ he said, after a long pause. ‘Angie McDonald has already interviewed me. I told her everything I know.’

‘I’m sure you did. This is just a follow-up – in case there’s anything you might have remembered since you spoke to the police.
Sometimes things come up that people don’t think of at the initial interview. Little things. They might seem unimportant,
but in a case like this, the police need all the help they can get.’

Gemma walked in, looking around the crowded flat. The three young men’s electronic equipment, surfboards, sporting gear and
piles of unironed clothes took up most of the space. She’d interrupted Julian as he was washing up what looked like a week’s
worth of plates, pots and pans. He returned to the sink and continued with his washing-up. Gemma picked up a tea towel and
started drying, stacking the plates in the small amount of available space.

‘Did anything unusual occur in the weeks before Marie-Louise’s death?’

‘What you mean “unusual”?’

‘Did she mention any strangers calling her or following her? Anything out of the ordinary?’

Julian vigorously attacked a crusty pan. ‘No,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘It was the same as usual: she’d go to work, we’d
get together afterwards, have a coffee or go somewhere for a drink
and then we’d go out or go back to each other’s place. Sometimes she begged off, saying she wanted an early night – that sort
of thing …’ His voice faltered. ‘That was our normal routine and had been for months, ever since we met at a party last year.
We’d spend every weekend together as well, except for the times Marie-Louise goes – I mean
went
– to visit her mother at Heathcote. She used to take the train …’

He turned around, still holding the washing-up brush and frowned. ‘Hey, the train thing. Something weird
did
happen about a week before she disappeared. I totally forgot about it till I thought of the train.’

‘What was it?’

‘I don’t think it’s relevant, though.’

‘Tell me.’

‘Marie-Louise was hurt while she was getting onto a crowded train at Town Hall, to go to Heathcote. She reckoned someone had
stuck something into her.’

‘Did she describe what happened?’

‘Only that she felt this sharp pain in her upper arm, as if someone was pinching her really hard. She said she yelled out,
but no one took any notice. They just thought she was complaining about being squashed, I guess. Everyone was pushing and
shoving, trying to get into the carriage – it’s like that on Fridays. She said she looked around but it could have been anybody.
By the time she found a seat, she said blood was running down her arm. She wrapped her scarf around it like a bandage.’

‘Did she have any idea who did it?’

‘No. You know what it’s like when people push onto the trains. There might be ten or twelve people all trying to get in.’

‘How bad was the cut?’

Julian put the brush down. ‘It was bad. It was kind of deep. But it wasn’t a cut.’

‘What do you mean?’

But he pushed the question aside with an impatient wave of the brush.

‘You say you didn’t mention this to Angie McDonald?’

Julian shook his head again. ‘No, as I said, when your girlfriend’s been murdered, you forget about everything else. I’ve
had other stuff to think about since then.’

‘I’ll pass this information on to Sergeant McDonald. It might be helpful. She’ll probably want to talk to you herself again.’

BOOK: Death by Beauty
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