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Authors: Paul Thomas

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BOOK: Death on Demand
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“A bit. I ate like a horse when I first got down there because there was nothing else to do. After a while I found other ways to fill in the time.”
“Such as?”
“Tramping, fishing, hunting, cricket – you know, manly outdoor stuff.”
“Good for you. I, on the other hand…”
“Well, I wasn't going to mention it…”
McGrail sighed. “My knees went wonky and the doctors banned me from jogging. I also have to do a fair amount of networking, most of which seems to take place in restaurants. I've discovered that things which supposedly aren't good for us are rather more enjoyable than some of the things which supposedly are.”
“Welcome to the human race. Is it also a job requirement to dress like Lord Muck?”
McGrail leaned back, smiling thinly. “Lord Muck, eh? I haven't heard of him for a while. Does my get-up offend you, Sergeant?”
Ihaka shook his head. “I just thought you didn't have a vain bone in your body.”
“Don't dwell on the externals,” said McGrail. “The fundamentals haven't changed. But I'm in this job to make a difference, and if wearing a nice suit and lunching with politicians helps me do that, so be it. I didn't invent this world, but I have to function in it.”
“I don't,” said Ihaka.
“You're not pleased to be back in the big city?”
“Well, it's an okay place to visit…”
“But you wouldn't want to work here? One would almost think you've undergone a Damascene conversion.”
“Sounds painful.”
“Well, it certainly can be for others. But I get the message: you're wondering why on earth, given the resources of the Auckland district, you've had to rush up here at such short notice. Remember Hamish Bartley?”
“The QC, right?” said Ihaka. “He represented that prick whose wife got run down.”
McGrail nodded. “Last Friday Bartley took me to lunch at his club. The Northern Club.”
“I didn't think it would be the Panmure RSA.”
“I'm pleased to see the heartland hasn't softened your sense of humour,” said McGrail. “Anyway, we had a pleasant lunch and talked about everything except what we were there for, as you tend to do when a third party is paying. When the coffee arrived, he finally got to the point: Christopher Lilywhite wants to see you.”
“The guy whose wife…”
“Got run down. Yes, that Christopher Lilywhite.”
Ihaka sat back, staring at McGrail. “Why the fuck would he, of all people, want to see me, of all people?”
“Because he's dying.”
The doorbell was answered by a thirtyish woman, shapeless in baggy track pants and an oversized T-shirt. Her hair was clipped into an untidy holding pattern, and red-rimmed eyes and nostrils glowed angrily amidst the pallor. Before he could introduce himself, she said accusingly, “You're Ihaka.”
He nodded.
“You're the last person who should be here.”
“It wasn't my idea.”
Her head vibrated with pent-up anger. “He's got this weird idea about making peace with you. I tried to talk him out of it, but he wouldn't even discuss it. I suppose that's his privilege, but he's dreaming if he thinks I'm going to be polite to you.” Her voice rose. “How you can still be a police officer is beyond me – you behaved like an absolute fucking Nazi. You hounded a man who was at the end of his tether, and what you put him through is the reason he's back there dying right in front of my eyes.”
“Are you a doctor?” asked Ihaka politely.
“No,” she snapped. “I'm a daughter.” She turned and walked away. “The room at the end of the corridor,” she said over her shoulder. “You can let yourself out.”
Ihaka walked down the corridor into a sunny living room. There was a well-stocked cocktail cabinet, a wall-mounted television, a sideboard stacked with framed family photographs, and several paintings including the inevitable Central Otago landscape. The flat surfaces were abloom.
Christopher Lilywhite lay on one of two long black leather sofas, his head sunk in a bank of pillows. Although the room was warm, almost stuffy, he wore an old-fashioned heavy dressing gown and had a cashmere blanket pulled up to his chest. He wasn't as gaunt as Ihaka had expected, but the year-round playboy tan had faded, exposing skin the colour of office equipment.
Lilywhite put a bookmark in a slim paperback and found a space for it among the bottles and glasses and pill containers on the coffee table beside him.

The Outsider
by Albert Camus,” he said in a smaller voice than the smug honk Ihaka remembered. “I'm trying to work my way through the books I always meant to read, but never got around to. I do find myself drawn to the short ones, though.”
“That's understandable,” said Ihaka. “How long have you got?”
“Put it this way: we're counting in weeks now. I hope Sandy – my daughter – didn't give you too hard a time. I asked her to be civil, but got the distinct impression that that was one dying man's request which wasn't going to be granted.”
Ihaka shrugged. “I've had worse.”
“Would you care for a drink?” asked Lilywhite. “That cabinet over there contains most alcoholic beverages known to man. I also nagged Sandy into making a pot of coffee.”
“Well, seeing you both went to the trouble.”
Ihaka poured himself a cup of plunger coffee, added sugar, and sat down in the visitor's chair pulled up in front of Lilywhite's sofa.
“I'm sorry you got run out of town,” said Lilywhite. “Of course, at the time I was delighted.”
“I wasn't unhappy with how it panned out,” said Ihaka. “And if that's the worst thing you've got on your conscience, you should be at peace with yourself.”
Lilywhite managed a weak smile. “Good point. We'll come to my conscience shortly. I don't think you'll leave here feeling you've wasted an afternoon, but could you do me a favour before we get down to business: why were you so sure I killed my wife?”
“Instinct, experience, process of elimination. Once you take away the baby bashers and the psychos and the dumbfuck trash out of their tiny minds on drugs or booze, most murders boil down to sex or money. If a marriage is made in heaven, neither of those things comes into it. If it isn't, one or the other or both generally do.” He paused. “Okay, a man who's used to getting away with things has a rich wife. He likes the rich part, but she doesn't do it for him any more. So he gets rid of her making it look like an accident, gets the money all to himself and, after a decent interval, moves the girlfriend into the master bedroom. That's pretty much how it went down, right?”
“But the outcome doesn't prove the theory,” said Lilywhite. “If Joyce had died of natural causes, I still would've got all the money and ended up with someone else.”
“Who said anything about proof? I didn't have any proof; that's why the investigation got canned. Come back to the key question: were you happily married? Your wife's friends thought so because that's how your wife saw it – or chose to see it – and they got her version. Your mates said all the right things, but I've been lied to by experts. A couple of them
who tried to tell me it was all sweetness and light sounded like they'd learned the lines off by heart. Why would they have to do that? The truth should speak for itself. I've also had to deal with people who've had someone precious just vanish from their lives. Grief is a hard act, and you didn't ring true. And then there were those fucking boy racers. Boy racers race, they don't steal cars to go and see where the rich folks live. If they steal a car, they thrash the shit out of it for a few hours, then dump it. There were street races all over town that night, but no one saw the Subaru. Boy racers aren't master criminals, either. Most of them are fucking dimwits who've sucked up too many petrol fumes. They couldn't keep a hit-and-run secret if their lives depended on it. The bottom line is that if boy racers mowed down your wife, we would've found them inside a week.”
“When you put it like that, it seems obvious. Why weren't you able to persuade your colleagues?”
“In one corner you've got a well-connected, white, middle-aged businessman, in the other a couple of phantom boy racers. For some people that's a pretty easy call.”
Lilywhite nodded slowly. “I could say that's a rather cynical point of view, but I suppose you'd come right back and call me naïve – or disingenuous. So you still think I got away with murder?”
“I wouldn't be here otherwise. You tell me something. What did your friends, particularly your wife's friends, think when you hooked up with her PA?”
“Well, some of them were a bit stiff-necked about it but a decent interval, to use your phrase, had elapsed.”
“Bullshit,” said Ihaka. “You were sneaking her in here long before you went public.” Lilywhite blinked in surprise. Ihaka gave him a quizzical look. “You think I stopped watching you just because the minister threw a wobbly?”
“Did you report that?”
“Jesus, that would've got
in the shit, not you. By that stage the investigation was on the back-burner and I was under strict orders to stay away from you. Just mentioning your name was enough to get me in strife. No, it was just for my benefit.”
“The quiet, private satisfaction of knowing you were right and your critics were wrong?”
Ihaka shook his head. “No, more the relief of knowing I hadn't fucked up my career over nothing.”
Lilywhite subsided into the pillows, closing his eyes. A minute went by, then another. Finally, his eyes opened and locked onto Ihaka: “There's one condition attached to what I'm about to tell you: that you keep it from my children until I'm gone. Beyond that, well, anything you can do would be much appreciated. Agreed?”
“You're right, of course. I had Joyce killed.” He tapped his chest. “In a funny sort of way, the guilt has helped me come to terms with this. Why should I have what I took from her?”
“So who killed her?”
“Well, there's the catch. I don't know.”
Christopher Lilywhite made his confession as if he had all the time in the world. He began at the beginning.
In 1972 Joyce Herbertson came down from Dargaville, where her father dug holes for the Ministry of Works, to attend Auckland Teachers' Training College. She lived in Royal Oak with her aunt and uncle, who mowed sports fields for the city council.
A friend of her aunt's worked at Smith and Caughey's in Queen Street, where one got to fawn over a better class of person. She took a shine to shy little Joyce, who'd been brought up to be respectful of her elders no matter how ghastly they were, and wangled her a part-time job in the Manchester department.
Joyce studied hard, she played competitive netball, she went to church every Sunday, even paying attention to the sermons. Her aunt soon gave up stealing peeks at the diary which Joyce wrote up in bed each night and kept under her pillow. Although she rationalized this invasion of privacy as
in loco parentis
concern for her niece's welfare, it was nothing more than prurience, and in that regard Joyce was a disappointment. After two anticlimactic months her aunt decided she got more of a tweak from a Mills and Boon.
Now and again Joyce permitted herself to dream, but what she expected to do was go back to Dargaville, teach
at the primary school she'd attended, and couple up with a nice young man with reasonable prospects, a steady sort who'd go on to be a deputy this or assistant that or a subbranch manager. Her parents would want him to be a churchgoer, but that wasn't a sticking point for her. After all, if you took out the miracles – the virgin birth, and take up thy bed and walk, and on the third day he rose again (all the slightly hard to believe stuff) – and the ritual – the prayers and psalms, the stale wafers and communion wine – it really boiled down to being a good person and treating people the way you'd like to be treated. She would never have voiced this thought, but it often occurred to her as she slid to her knees to drone along with the rest of the congregation: wouldn't it have pretty much the same effect if they dispensed with the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost and just drummed the Golden Rule into everyone?
She got a job at Remuera Primary School and moved out of her aunt and uncle's place into a flat in Meadowbank, sharing with a couple of girls from her netball team. One of them was in her second year of a Bachelor of Education at Auckland University. People were always telling Joyce she had a good brain, so she enrolled at university and paid her flatmate's rent for a fortnight in return for her notes and essays from the year before. She worked even harder, played social netball, and went to church every second or third Sunday. She gave up keeping a diary. There just didn't seem much point in depriving herself of fifteen minutes' sleep to record the fact that today had been pretty much the same as yesterday and the day before.
She went out with Stuart, an arts student she met in the university library. Stuart wrote hectoring poems about the downtrodden masses and having to get by on a B bursary, and studied her minutely as she read them. She developed a routine of ambiguous sighs and shakes of the head which
seemed to satisfy him. They went to gloomy films with subtitles and had long pashing sessions back in his room at the hostel that left her with bruised lips and an aching jaw. The pashing escalated to fondling through clothes, then to hand-jobs for him and less than reciprocal ferreting between the legs for her. Even though Stuart was the one getting his rocks off, he pressed her to go all the way and dumped her when she said not yet. A fortnight later she drank too much sparkling wine at a party at her place, and gifted her cherry to a gatecrasher who made her laugh.
BOOK: Death on Demand
10.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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