I hope you enjoyed last week’s teaser! For a full synopsis, please go to Book 1 – A Life Singular.
I’d love to hear your feedback. A Life Singular is currently discounted to US$0.99 on Amazon:
Kindle ebook: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08DML7BSD
A Life Shattered
Lynn and Jeff celebrated the latest landmark in their youngest family member’s journey to adulthood on the 15th of February 1996, less than a week after her birthday. She had arrived at the restaurant on Beaconsfield Parade in her own car, brandishing her brand new driving licence and a large floral bouquet for her mother.
‘Let me see!’ the proud father fuelled her excitement, taking the plastic card from her waving hand and examining the photograph. ‘That’s not you. It’s a fake.’
Kierney stuck her tongue out and snatched the licence back. ‘It’s not! It’s real,’ she insisted, passing it to her mother for verification. ‘Let me see yours. Let’s see if your photo looks like you.’
Her dad obliged, removing his wallet from his back pocket. It was a humid summer’s evening in Melbourne, and the famous family had risked a table outside in the restaurant’s casual dining area overlooking the bay. Other patrons sat nearby, doing their best to ignore the celebrities, who in return were doing their best to be ignored. Somehow, neither party ever quite succeeded at this game, and certainly not in their home town.
Before handing his own licence across, the forty-three-year-old looked at the mug-shot which was now over five years old. He held it up to his cheek for the women to adjudicate.
‘Which me do you prefer? The 1990 model or the current model?’
His wife smiled, adoration gleaming in her blue eyes. ‘The current model, of course. Distinguished and sophisticated.’
‘Grey and wrinkly,’ Kierney countered, eager to examine the detail on her dad’s licence and comparing its format to her up-to-date version.
Jeff scoffed. ‘OK! I know who’s paying for dinner tonight. Somewhere between the two responses would’ve been nice.’
While waiting for their drinks to arrive, Lynn telephoned Jet in Cambridge for Kierney to pass on her good news. He didn’t answer, so they left a quick message and focussed on the menu. One after the other, they imparted their own driving test memories and shared the feeling of elation each remembered on passing.
‘Sounds like being able to drive legally on our own was a long time coming for all of us,’ the sportswoman reflected, turning to her husband. ‘Do you remember those lessons you gave me out on the deserted roads near the airport?’
‘Yep,’ Jeff nodded, scowling at a rare unhappy memory. ‘In our blue period, you mean. We were so damned short-tempered with each other…And then, after all that, your first licence was your Californian one.’
‘That’s right. My God! That test was absolutely pathetic!’ Lynn laughed, casting her hand around as if describing an open space. ‘Here’s a car park. If you can drive once around without hitting any other cars, you pass.’
‘Wow! Was that it?’ Kierney yelped, astonished. ‘Were you driving for ages before you got your licence too, Papá?’
Coughing and gazing around to check no-one could overhear, the comic answered. ‘Um, yes, Your Honour. I bought an old wreck of a car when I was sixteen, but I didn’t drive it much. Couldn’t afford the petrol. Still an amazing feeling to finally get my licence though. Proof that I was a bona fide citizen, I guess.’
The teenager smiled. ‘Yeah! That’s exactly how I feel too. A passport doesn’t make you autonomous, because I’ve had one since before I could walk or talk. At least with a driving licence, it proves someone thinks I’m responsible enough to be in charge of my own actions.’
‘Listen to us!’ her mum chuckled. ‘We’re all so similar. It’s fascinating how being responsible’s so much part of our ethos. Other people shirk responsibility until they die.’
‘Viva apathy!’ Jeff toasted, raising his empty beer bottle as their meals arrived at the table. ‘I hate the world but I can’t be bothered to change it, so I’ll just spend the rest of my life moaning.’
The trio swapped more automotive stories over dinner, laughing and joking like the tight-knit bunch they were. They made plans for Kierney to drive down from Sydney to meet them at Junior’s farm in Narrandera for the Easter weekend, which was the next scheduled Dyson shindig.
‘You can bring someone if you like,’ Lynn invited their daughter. ‘Are things OK with you and Dylan? You seemed a little distant on your birthday. Are you still going out with him?’
‘Yeah. Technically we are,’ the young woman confirmed. ‘I’d rather come on my own though, to be honest. I want to enjoy being en famille before getting completely dragged into uni’ life.’
‘Sure. That’s cool,’ her dad said, leaning over and kissing her temple. ‘It’ll be great to be together in the wilderness for a few days. Just us, as an antidote to all the madness. Bloody oath, we’re going to be so busy by then, angel. Shame Jetto’s not here. But hey, Kiz…Exactly what does going out with someone technically entail?’
Lynn grinned as she waited for the youngster to come up with a suitable retort, knowing how alike the two dark-haired Diamonds’ brains worked. It was proving more and more difficult to embarrass the children these days, given their rapidly increasing levels of experience with the opposite sex.
‘Oh, you know…We get cosy every now and again,’ the eighteen-year-old explained with a shy smile, ‘in a technical way. But then we do our own thing when we want to.’
Jeff shook his head. ‘That makes no sense at all, pequeñita, but I’ll let you carrying on living in your misguided reality.’
‘Oh, whatever, Papá,’ Kierney pouted. ‘I don’t meddle in you guys’ sex life, so I’ll thank you not to meddle in mine.’
‘Sounds like a fair deal,’ her mother agreed. ‘Did you want us to check anything out for you in Sydney this weekend?’
The youngster shook her head. ‘Thanks, but I can’t think of anything. I can ring you if I do. Are you staying at the Blakes’?’
‘Not tomorrow night, but at the weekend we are,’ Jeff answered. ‘We’ve got to help Celia convince Gerald to stop drinking.’
‘Oh, why? Is he sick?’
‘Yep,’ her dad nodded again. ‘The usual old people’s afflictions: blood pressure, heart problems… All sorts apparently. He needs to stop smoking and drinking so much.’
‘Unfair, isn’t it?’ Lynn added, gazing out across the bay. ‘You reach the autumn of your life, and your body starts denying you all the pleasures you’ve earned during the hard-slog years.’
‘Exactement,’ her husband agreed. ‘Still, it’s a choice. Keep going at the same pace so you go out partying, or slow down and gradually bore yourself to death.’
Kierney laughed aloud. ‘Yuck! Neither of those options sounds very appealing. Somewhere in the middle perhaps? Please give Uncle Gerald my best wishes.’
‘We shall. That’s kind, darling. Everything in moderation,’ Lynn offered, mimicking her own mother. ‘For all these new fad diets and ideas for healthy living, that old adage still works the best.’
‘Christ!’ Jeff exclaimed. ‘Enough of this sensible talk, Grandma. Between us, we sound like the Grim Reaper, warning everyone to steer clear of danger. It’s old man Blake’s choice, as long as he makes it knowing the likely effects on everyone and not just himself.’
The teenager’s mobile rang from inside her handbag.
‘That’ll be Jet,’ her mum assumed.
‘Hey! Thanks!’ Kierney exclaimed into the phone. ‘Yeah. It’s awesome! Thanks for ringing back. How’s things over there? We’re having dinner in Port Melbourne, on the bay. It’s very hot. Ha, ha! Tough luck!’
The handset was passed around each person in turn. Luckily, by this time, there were no other patrons around to disturb. The Trinity College undergraduate was envious of the summer weather and sorry to be missing out on their celebratory dinner. The new university term having started in earnest, his workload was mounting, already almost halfway through his degree.
‘See ya, son,’ Jeff shouted over the wind and traffic noise. ‘Talk soon. Have fun at the weekend and stay safe.’
Kierney slipped the telephone back into her bag. ‘So he bought that bike in the end. I knew he would.’
‘Yes,’ her mother replied. ‘He said he managed to negotiate the price down, so the guy must have been keen to sell it to him. Hope it’s not ready to fall to pieces.’
The songwriter nodded, leaning back in his chair and savouring the small amount of wine left in his glass. Their son had been eyeing up a second-hand Triumph motorcycle since before the end of the previous term. If the bike were to break down, it would serve as a useful lesson in resourcefulness for a young buck unpractised in the art of caveat emptor, but he wasn’t game to voice this opinion right now. Lynn preferred less punitive learning devices, and all records indicated she was right. Both children were fully automated these days, self-sufficient and confident. Not a bad job done, he thought.
The handsome musician winked at his guardian angel. ‘We have no purpose now,’ he rued. ‘Parental pasture looms. Where shall we retire to, angel?’
‘No!’ the teenager cried out. ‘Don’t retire! I still need you.’
‘Eh? What total crap!’ her father objected. ‘Kizzy, you haven’t needed us since you were out of nappies. Get outta here!’
‘I have needed you. Just don’t go too far away then. Driving distance only.’
With dusk descending on Port Phillip Bay, Lynn went inside to pay their bill, and the threesome left the restaurant, crossed the road and walked hand-in-hand along the promenade towards Station Pier. The Spirit of Tasmania had docked in the last hour, disgorging its stomach contents onto the local roads.
Another, much larger ocean liner was moored alongside it, dwarfing the ferry that ran daily between Melbourne and Devonport on the apple-shaped island state to the south. Passers-by waved and shouted cheerfully to the famous family, receiving smiles and waves of acknowledgement in return.
‘Hey!’ Kierney piped up. ‘I forgot to tell you… You guys remember Youssouf Elhadji, don’t you?’
Her father turned and nodded. ‘Ah, yeah? Did he reply to your message?’
‘More than! He wants to record something new with me. And he’s become a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF. Can you believe that?’
‘Wow! He’s not even thirty yet, is he? That is amazing. Well done!’ Lynn praised. ‘But when are you going to fit a recording session in with everything else?’
The proud teenager giggled. ‘Oh, I don’t know yet. July, probably. At mid-term break, depending on my exams. I could visit Jet and meet him in London. What do you think? I can hardly ask him to come here, can I?’
‘No. Not really,’ Jeff agreed. ‘London or New York. Or what about Paris? I’ll see if I can come with you.’
‘Thanks. I’m more interested in talking to him about the United Nations,’ their ambitious daughter explained, ‘so New York would be perfect. He could show me what he does there, if that’s allowed. I might even marry him.’
‘Oh, might you?’ her dad echoed in surprise, opening the passenger door for his wife. ‘No wonder you want to leave Dylan behind at Easter. I didn’t know you had the hots for him. Isn’t he already married? Technically?’
‘I don’t even know,’ Kierney swooned. ‘Most likely. N’importe pas.’
‘Right,’ Lynn smiled at the youngster’s free and easy attitude. ‘We’ll leave that one in your capable hands. See you at home.’
The parents drove off before their daughter pulled out of her parking space up ahead, not wishing to put any pressure on her early driving career. Jeff couldn’t stop himself from checking his rear-view mirror every few seconds, making sure the little silver hatchback with its red probationary plates was still following them. His dream girl caught his eye and scolded him gently. Letting Kierney spread her wings was truly the hardest thing for the doting dad.
‘Shit! I am so old,’ he groaned. ‘How can our little girl be thinking about getting married? It’s just not kosher, baby. Now I know how your parents felt.’
‘What goes around comes around,’ his empathetic wife sighed, stroking the tight sinews stretching along her husband’s left forearm as his hand shifted gear in the sleek, dark grey sports car. ‘My mum tried to tell me you’d behave just like Dad if you ever had your own daughter.’
‘Did she? When you were sick that day in our apartment? While I duelled with your father for your hand on the balcony?’
‘Yes. That fateful day,’ the beautiful woman confirmed. ‘I remember not being too convinced. I told her that at least you’d ask your daughter what she wanted first.’
‘No way! That’s not going to happen,’ her husband denied with a half-smile, shaking his head. ‘I’m going to put my foot down. No free thinking allowed ’til she’s at least twenty-five.’
‘Come on! You’d love to have Youssouf Elhadji as a son-in-law.’
The songwriter nodded, turning his head to the left and grinning at the wise woman. ‘I would so! Awesome!’
Lynn chuckled at his impersonation of their exuberant girl-child, lost in fond recollection of the head-strong beau who swept her own innocence away in a maelstrom of passion and nightmares.
After a few more minutes winding through Melbourne’s sparse evening traffic, the couple turned into the car park of their city apartment building. To their relief, Kierney pulled up behind them before the gates had fully opened, in her silver Volkswagen independence machine.
‘Kizzy, we’re leaving,’ Jeff announced, knocking on his daughter’s bedroom door. ‘Can I come in?’
‘Yes,’ the youngster called out, swinging her legs off the bed to meet her dad with a kiss at the door. ‘Right now?’
‘Ten, fifteen minutes, tops,’ the smartly-dressed businessman affirmed, his eyes alighting on a series of verses written on a single piece of paper. ‘What’s this? May I read it, please?’
‘A-course ya can,’ Kierney joked. ‘It was inspired by Auntie Lena, after that dinner we nearly didn’t share in Sydney last month. Hope you don’t mind the subject matter.’
The young woman disappeared into the bathroom, leaving her father hypnotised by a very adult song lyric which lamented the disdain often levied upon sex workers for taking cash for their time, as opposed to the jewellery, cars and comfortable homes that more refined gold-diggers were known to opt for. The words conjured up some callous images, making him shiver, particularly when he homed in on the unfeeling monotony of such a lifestyle.
If this song was his sister’s story, it was not one Jeff recognised. Had Madalena really opened up to this extent to her niece that evening? He doubted it. If she had, he was sure the teenager would have told him sooner. Throughout their very separate lives growing up in Sydney’s neglected western suburbs, the Diamond siblings had evolved into vastly different people as a result of the wounds inflicted in their formative years. The young lad had gained a surfeit of emotional intelligence, determination and self-awareness, whereas his older sister had closed her heart and mind to any outside influences, whether subconsciously or otherwise.
Deep in contemplation, the forty-three-year-old jumped as the bathroom door clicked shut behind him, and he felt his daughter’s presence at his side. ‘This is really good,’ he said, flapping the page in front of her face. ‘I love the last verse, even though you shouldn’t be so cynical so young. Mamá’d try to discourage you from thinking this way, but I’m too much like you to get away with it anymore.’
Kierney giggled, accepting the lyric sheet back and placing it on the desk. ‘True, y gracias. Chip off the old block. I’m glad you like it.’
‘I do, baby. Very much. Pero digame… Did Auntie Lena really talk about some of those things? Like she longs to be touched by someone who cares? It just doesn’t sound like my sister. Are you sure you had dinner with the right whore?’
‘Papá!’ the teenager shrieked, slapping his arm. ‘I’m not that stupid. It’s not Auntie Lena’s story. We talked about working girls generalmente, and she told me stuff about people she knew. It was interesting, how different women deal with being a prostitute. That’s all.’
‘Cool. Good enough. But why d’you want to know so much about that seedy life?’ her father enquired, keen to lighten the mood before his departure. ‘United Nations lost its appeal?’
‘Perhaps!’ the young woman teased, batting flirtatious eyelids. ‘I’ll need some pocket money while I’m going through uni’. It’s the oldest profession, isn’t it? I was always told the professions are reputable careers.’
The rock star rested an affectionate hand on top of his daughter’s untidy mop of long curls and shook her head until her whole body wobbled. Laughing at the oldest trick in the book, she reached both arms around his waist for a hug. A few years ago, he would have held her at arm’s length while she tried in vain to punch his ribs with flailing fists, but she chose to cuddle into him these days. Kierney Diamond loved her papá best of all.
‘Enough with the smart remarks, hija mía. If you need pocket money to get through uni’, our combined songwriting careers must’ve definitely hit the skids,’ her billionaire father scoffed. ‘Mamá’ll bail you out. She’s good like that.’
Kierney smiled, chasing him back to the kitchen. ‘The last line did come from Auntie Lena though.’
‘Did it?’ he responded in amazement. ‘The “fine line” reference? I didn’t know she thought that way. Who was she referring to?’
‘Oh, no-one in particular. Maybe Michelle? She said that women who get married to rich men so they can have kids and nannies and never work again are selling sex just as much as prostitutes do, and I see her point. Is that mean?’
Jeff stopped and turned to this gorgeous creature who went out of her way never to hurt anyone, even with the truth. She knew the answer to her own question. He could see it in her big, brown eyes.
‘It’s a song, not an affidavit, pequeñita,’ he smiled, pointing to her heart. ‘As long as you understand that in here…’
‘I know you do. And generally, for the record, I agree with you,’ the philosopher added. ‘It is a really fine line, as your lyric says. I suppose people can get addicted to jewellery shopping and being presented with a new car every year every bit as easily as they can get addicted to drugs and drink. Jacinta might fall into that category, and she’d certainly think we were being mean to say so. Tammy too, for that matter. They’re both pretty much ladies of leisure these days, courtesy of their husbands’ big, fat portfolios.’
Kierney laughed. Her dad was referring to his long-suffering manager’s sisters, whom he had known since he was a boy. Michelle was her mother’s best friend from school, and she and the feisty Madalena had been bridesmaids at Lynn and Jeff’s wedding twenty years ago.
‘Michelle’s not part of the “thin line” brigade though,’ Jeff continued. ‘We shouldn’t discount unpaid work. Mish serves on a few non-profit boards, like Mamá does, and she takes care of heaps of our legal stuff pro bono. She actually works pretty hard, I reckon, but Auntie Lena wouldn’t understand that sort of work. You have to dig up roads or stand up all day as a supermarket checkout chick before Lena thinks you’re working.’
Kierney looked ashamed, causing her father to sympathise with her flourishing conscience. He didn’t need to labour the point. The pair walked into the kitchen where Lynn was clearing away their breakfast.
‘Buenos días, Mamá,’ she chanted, kissing her mother. ‘When are you back?’
‘Buenos días, darling. Tuesday, mid-morning. We’re planning to go straight to the house. What are you doing today?’
‘Don’t know yet,’ the eighteen-year-old frowned.
Jeff scoffed. ‘What? Question too hard? Come along, for Christ’s sake, get with the programme! Don’t you know the ins and outs of your diary off by heart by now?’
It was a running joke between father and daughter that her mum’s planning standards demanded much more rigour in comparison with theirs. Somehow, she was able to retain every appointment in her head, along with those of the rest of the family and even some of her friends too. Dark-haired Diamonds didn’t do detail, which was always a source of frustration for the super-organised, blonde beauty.
Kierney shrugged. ‘Terribly sorry. I’ll try to get all the spontaneity out of my system before you return.’
‘Good thing too,’ Lynn mocked, giving her daughter a hug. ‘Enjoy yourself this weekend, and don’t forget to ring if you want us to do anything for you while we’re in Sydney.’
‘I shall and I won’t,’ the teenager responded, making a swift scan of the kitchen. ‘What about here? Is there anything I need to do?’
‘Nope,’ Jeff shook his head. ‘Everything’s under control. Just drive carefully and don’t go getting married before we get back, OK?’
The women both laughed, sharing sympathetic glances at the uneasy father figure. After final kisses goodbye, Kierney stood in the hallway in her pyjamas until the lift doors closed on her parents, on their way to the airport yet again.
The commuter flight to Sydney was uneventful but crowded, and the Diamonds had been forced to hang back to avoid the throng at baggage collection. It took them nearly an hour to reach the rental car counter. Cathy Lane, their trusty administration wizard, had arranged an energetic Mercedes AMG sports car for the couple’s brief stop in Sydney, and it was husband versus wife to be the first to drive it.
The silver dart sped towards the Central Business District, weaving through traffic as best it could. The superstars were due to attend a charity luncheon at eleven-thirty, deciding first to check into their favourite boutique hotel, The Pensione on George Street. Jeff pulled into the semi-circular, covered driveway at speed, negotiating the curves expertly and coming to a halt centimetres from the kerb. The doorman was impressed, and then startled out of his wits when the passenger door opened and out stepped none other than Lynn Dyson Diamond.
The tall, elegant lady signalled to the valet that her husband wouldn’t require him to park the car. ‘He knows where to go,’ she told the open-mouthed fan. ‘He’s like a boy with a new toy in that thing. I’m sure he thinks it’s a go-kart.’
The stocky young man gave a tentative snigger and opened a door to one side of the revolving entry to let the sportswoman pass through into the lobby. As she approached the reception desk, she was greeted by a row of waiting smiles. The staff were eager to see their special guests again.
‘Welcome, Ms Diamond,’ the receptionist marked “Miriam” effervesced. ‘How are you today?’
‘Very well, thank you. A bit stressed. It took ages to get here from the airport this morning. Jeff’s bringing the luggage around from the car park. How are you all?’
Miriam swooned. ‘We’re good, thanks. And thank you so much for choosing to stay with us today, Ms Diamond,’ she added, dripping with sincerity. ‘It’s lovely to see you and your husband again.’
One half of the hotel’s VIP contingent was handed their keys and a pair of envelopes which had been delivered for the couple’s attention. She turned to watch the same doorman wheeling a trolley towards her, ready to transport the luggage up to their room. A telephone rang on the counter, and one of the other receptionists answered it.
‘Excuse me, Ms Diamond,’ Hannah called out, seeing the celebrity walking away. ‘There’s a phone call for Mr Diamond.’
‘Oh, OK. I’ll take it,’ Lynn replied, turning back. ‘Thanks very much.’
Miriam instructed her more junior colleague to transfer the call to a courtesy telephone in the lounge area, next to a comfortable leather couch. The reception staff watched their guest closely as she walked across the tiled flooring, self-assured in a tailored suit and high heels. It was the first time the younger employee had seen Australia’s favourite lady in the flesh, and she understood the others’ jealous awe at once. To think the Olympian was now forty years old! It was hard to believe the nineteen-sixties child-star had children already in their late teens.
Lynn Dyson Diamond was everything most women wanted to be: tall and slim, with shining blonde hair and a tanned, radiant complexion. In whispered tones, the receptionists remarked to each other that they had seen photographs of Anna Dyson’s wedding two years earlier, at which today’s guest had been the Matron of Honour. Despite their eleven-year age difference, one could scarcely tell who was the younger.
‘Please take a seat over there, Ms Diamond,’ Miriam invited, pointing towards the telephone. ‘The call will be waiting for you.’
The celebrity did as she was told, mouthing an inaudible thank-you. Lifting the receiver to her ear, she sank into the sumptuous cushions and crossed her long legs, at once stately and casual.
‘Hello? This is Lynn Diamond.’
A gruff, nervous voice snuffled at the other end of the line, asking again to speak to Jeff Diamond.
‘No, I’m sorry. Jeff’s not available. This is Lynn Diamond. Can I help you instead?’
But there was no further conversation. With the faintest of whistles, the celebrity’s head was whipped back against the wall behind the couch by an invisible force, and she exhaled suddenly.
Elsewhere, the reception staff continued about their day’s business. Nobody noticed the trickle of blood running down their attractive guest’s forehead, where a bullet had penetrated her skull. Her eyes were open and staring over towards the hotel entrance, as if searching for her husband. She was frozen in time while the world carried on as normal around her.
A while later, something made Miriam look up and check on the telephone call taken by her distinguished patron. She screamed at the top of her voice, causing everyone within earshot to stop in their tracks and follow her frightened gaze. Pandemonium broke out in the lobby as staff and guests cottoned on to the alarming incident.
Outside, Jeff reached the revolving doors leading into the hotel from the driveway, only to be bombarded by loud cries and the sound of a man shouting orders. With a suitcase in each hand and the parking ticket clamped in his teeth, he stopped to put the docket and receipt in his wallet, wondering what all the noise was for.
‘Everyone please keep calm,’ the hotel manager’s authoritative voice commanded, wild eyes looking from one side of the lobby to the other. ‘No-one leave the building, please.’
As the well-known musician grasped the handles of each bag to make his way through the grand entrance, a short, middle-aged man began to push the revolving doors from the inside. The natural leader stepped back out and met the other man as he was ejected into the open air, ending up face-to-face on the pavement.
‘Did you hear the instructions from inside, mate? We’d better stay inside. What’s going on, d’you know?’
Quite clearly agitated, the swarthy individual spat a few curt words at the songwriter. Confused for a moment, Jeff had trouble recognising the language as Spanish.
‘¿Qué dices, hombre?’ Jeff asked, towering over him.
‘Quería matarlo Ustéd, pero es mejor así,’ the terrified foreigner muttered under his breath.
The billionaire’s height and strength were too much for the smaller man to contend with, and he found himself being directed back through the revolving doors towards the commotion. A member of staff wearing a security guard’s uniform had been watching the pair and stepped in to take control of the fugitive from their impressive guest.
The linguist replayed the incoherent sentence in his head. What had this angry jerk said to him? Something about killing him but that it was better this way… What did he mean? And did “Ustéd” refer to an anonymous person inside the hotel or had he directed this statement to its intended object?
‘What’s happened?’ Jeff demanded of the man in uniform, beginning to panic as he saw a familiar figure walking towards him.
‘Mr Diamond,’ the hotel manager said in a weak, reedy voice, his face as white as a sheet. ‘Come this way, please.’
The hotel’s famous patron looked from the southern European man and the security guard to the smartly-attired manager whom he knew fairly well. He began to feel dizzy and nauseated. No, surely not…
‘Where’s my wife?’ he demanded. ‘Where’s Lynn?’
The noise inside the foyer was frenetic, and the area had taken on a surreal ambience that reminded the celebrity a little of a film set. But no-one was making a movie here. Something serious had clearly occurred, the prospect of which filled him with foreboding. He had the feeling he would not be playing the role of innocent bystander for much longer.
‘Karl, take Mr Diamond’s bags to his room, please,’ Chris Nichols was now at the star’s side, his shiny lapel badge sporting The Pensione’s logo. ‘Mr Diamond, please come with me.’
‘Why?’ the visitor asked, watching the doorman wheel his belongings away. ‘What’s going on, mate? Where’s Lynn?’
His eyes desperate to find the woman he adored, Jeff noticed the concierge’s team had erected a type of barrier at the far end of the lounge area. He tried to remember the normal layout, yet his muddled, swirling thoughts drew a blank.
‘Will someone please tell me what’s going on?’ he asked again, to anyone listening.
In the absence of any answers, the forty-three-year-old’s anxious mind strung the circumstances together itself and came to the worst possible conclusion. Pushing past Nichols, he strode towards the small crowd now gathered around the temporary screen.
Another valet tried to prevent him from going any further, but Jeff Diamond wasn’t the type of man who took no for an answer. He sidestepped everyone’s valiant efforts to prevent him from seeing what he knew by now he didn’t want to see.
Reaching the barrier, the superstar’s head swam. The sight that met his eyes after one more stride confirmed his worst fear; the one he had been dreading for so many years. Legs buckling underneath him, he struggled to maintain his equilibrium, and his stomach churned wildly.
Thirty pairs of eyes drilled into him, and the weight of thirty-one heavy hearts charged the atmosphere. Deliberately avoiding any interaction, the tall, good-looking Australian stepped forwards to where the love of his life sat, the telephone receiver still resting in her lap.
People all around were crying; some wailing out loud. Their shock at finding the nation’s favourite celebrity mother with a gunshot wound to her head was quickly mixing with the distress of watching her husband of twenty years come to terms with the heinous tableau. The situation was too much for several people, who collapsed and fainted in their neighbours’ arms.
‘Lynn,’ Jeff whispered, crouching down beside his wife’s crossed legs and placing his left hand on her knee. ‘Angel, what happened?’
Chris Nichols lunged forward after the distraught songwriter, grabbing at his upper arm in an effort to pull him back from the crime scene. Jeff grunted and shook his shoulder, dislodging the man’s hand.
‘Mr Diamond,’ the hotel manager urged. ‘Come away, please. The police are on their way.’
Watching on, he realised it was clear from the sympathetic reaction of those encircling the much-loved stars that popular opinion was against him. Tearful women seemed to form a line of defence, protecting their idol’s privacy while he came to terms with the terrible situation.
Jeff took a few seconds to survey the frozen body as thoroughly as his emotions would allow, willing with all his might for it to move. A flick of an eyelid, a twitch of a finger… Now would be a very good time for his dream girl to wake him up from this horrific dream, as she had done so many hundreds of times before.
Instead, his saviour sat mute and motionless. To a collection of gasps and sobs from the throng behind him, he picked up her hands and stared at the bullet hole in her forehead that had extinguished her life.
Desperate to preserve the area for the upcoming investigation, Nichols again instructed the crowd to move back while he attempted to persuade his famous guest to withdraw. His words continued to be ignored.
Time stood still, and the cries and murmurs of the onlookers rang in Jeff’s ears. He lifted Lynn’s hands to his mouth before laying them back down into her lap.
Not enough, he concluded. His dream girl deserved more than this. The performer leant forwards and kissed her inanimate, red lips, already much colder than he remembered.
The staff did their utmost to steer the crowd away, but no-one was interested in moving until the celebrity was ready. Jeff became aware of sirens in the distance above the incessant whispering, which even on a good day followed him wherever he went. Tears started to flow from his eyes and down his cheeks as the reckoning finally hit home. Lynn’s side of this story would forever be lost to those who cared.
A hysterical woman rushed forward and threw her arms around the heartthrob’s shoulders, bawling and screaming. Instinctively, the empathetic man stood up and span around, embracing this grief-stricken stranger.
He found himself staring into glazed, bloodshot eyes which undoubtedly reflected his own. ‘Thanks,’ he murmured, pushing her away from his chest and searching for a volunteer in the crowd to rescue him.
The doorman led the woman away, leaving Jeff to turn back and catch hold of his wife’s vacant, blue pools of boundless love. He perched on the edge of the couch next to her, being careful not to leave fingerprints anywhere. He knew enough about ballistics to assume that trying to revive her was futile.
Having given up trying to extricate the grieving man from the obscured area, Chris Nichols marshalled his staff to lead people out of the foyer. He ran across the tiles to meet two arriving police officers and brief them on what had taken place.
Jeff reached out to stroke Lynn’s hair, taking deep, slow breaths to bring his heart rate under control. It was a relief to be close to her again, but the trickle of blood from the hole above her right eye was a ghastly reminder that of how she had met her fate.
Jeff also noticed that the front of her suit jacket was stained red at waist level. He shook his head in a mixture of agony and confusion. Whoever this small Spaniard was, and why ever he had sought to shoot this perfect creature, he had done a superb job.
‘Fucking bastard,’ he murmured, staring into Lynn’s lifeless eyes and willing them to blink.
The intellectual considered it strange that the barrage of unpleasant odours didn’t bother him more. Glancing up at the blood stains running down the wall, he thought he would have found the whole experience utterly revolting.
He shouldn’t be surprised though, since he had reacted the same way when cleaning up after his mother’s violent death. It was something that had to be done, so his teenaged self had knuckled down and got on with it. Back then, the macabre activity had helped pass the time while his mind and body processed the shock. How long might the trauma last this time?
Staring into the deep blue eyes again, Jeff held his lover’s icy left hand and brushed her wedding ring with his fingertips. It was obvious that the blood on her blouse hadn’t come from the bullet in her head, but he couldn’t face the repulsive task of locating any others. That was the Coroner’s job, and he was welcome to it.
‘You promised me you wouldn’t do this,’ he reminded his eternal lover, tears rolling down his cheeks and dropping onto her skirt.
He went to pass his hand over her eyes, intending to close them. At the last minute however, he decided he preferred them the way they were and diverted his fingers. By leaving her eyes open, he could delude himself she was still with him. His beautiful best friend seemed at peace, still with the faintest of smiles on her paling face.
Out of sheer habit, he ran two loving fingers down a translucent cheek, pallid, chill and desiccated, and a turgid teardrop dropped from his face and burst on an impassive face.
‘I’ll love you forever, mon amie. Together, forever, wherever, OK?’
Two fresh-faced constables had arrived and were rushing to cordon off all but a narrow walkway through the hotel’s lobby, leaving just enough space for arriving and departing guests to pass between the lifts and the entrance.
Distracting himself with happier thoughts as his emotions overflowed again, he wondered which room had been reserved for their stay tonight. He had asked Cathy to arrange for a single red rose to be placed on his lover’s pillow. His wife often did the same for him, but instead of a flower, his gift would be humorous: a toy or something edible.
Convinced by now that the soul he had been mates with for so long had vacated this wounded body, Jeff forced himself to admit the time had come to let go of her physical incarnation. With one last kiss on her lips, the fingers of his left hand brushed her eyelids closed. She looked peaceful, and he sensed somehow that they had exchanged a silent farewell.
A pair of plain-clothed detectives now stood close behind him. The grieving man had tracked their approach out of the corner of his eye. They too scarcely believed what they were seeing, confronted with the same shocking scene.
The world’s greatest lover stood up and drank in the beauty of this exquisite woman who had shared over half his life. ‘Thanks for everything, angel,’ he murmured. ‘I love you so much. See you soon.’
The police investigation was clearly underway, the star realised. He could hear a deep, authoritative voice telling bystanders that under no circumstances were they to answer any questions from journalists or reporters. Several people asked questions, and others whispered and pointed as they caught sight of the revered celebrity.
‘Mr Diamond,’ the higher-ranking officer addressed the rock star. ‘I’m Detective Inspector Robert Fisher.’
Jeff shook the man’s extended hand. ‘G’day.’
‘I’m very sorry for your loss,’ Fisher continued, embarrassed by his own emotional reaction. ‘Tragic loss for us all. Come this way, please.’
The bereaved husband turned back to where his beautiful best friend sat, his head throbbing with unspent. ‘Not yet. I’m not ready to leave her.’
The senior detective moved to take hold of Jeff’s elbow, only to have it snatched from his fingers. ‘We need to secure the area, sir, and ask you a few questions, if you don’t mind.’
Wiping the latest surge of tears from his cheeks, the superstar sighed. He did mind, but what was the point? Taking one last look at his only true love, he followed the inspector and his offsider across the lobby and into a room behind the reception desk.
A few stunned employees tried their best to serve complimentary beverages, answer questions and pacify distressed guests all at the same time. All eyes tracked the washed-out celebrity as he slipped into the sanctuary of the back office. For the first time in many years, he felt completely helpless and totally alone.
‘Please sit down, Mr Diamond,’ DI Fisher requested, signalling towards an armchair.
‘Jeff, please,’ the tall man replied, doing as he was told. ‘I have a question for you, before we get started, if I may…’
The veteran investigator studied the well-known visage as its owner struggled to utter the phrase he and his partner had agreed together, hoping they would never have cause to articulate it.
‘Lynn planned to donate her organs. I think we can safely assume she’s not coming back, so at what stage do you guys take her wishes into account?’
‘That’s a very good question,’ the senior detective replied. ‘It’s good of you to think about such a thing at this time, sir. The paramedic team’ll be told when they get here, though I doubt whether the circumstances of her death and the time it’ll take to process the scene will make this possible, I’m afraid.’
Fisher stood up and left the room, reassuring the impressive Australian icon that he would relay this futile instruction straightaway. He figured the Coroner would require the body to remain intact, especially in what would inevitably turn into a high-profile case. Another set of vital organs lost to the ever-lengthening waiting list of worthy recipients.
From out in the foyer, Jeff’s attention was drawn to the familiar ring-tone of his wife’s mobile. The distinctive tune brought with it a renewed wave of grief, along with the sudden realisation that he should let his management company know that lunch was off. His own handset was in his leather jacket, which he had last seen on a baggage trolley, draped over their suitcases.
He turned to the red-haired receptionist who was hovering in the doorway. ‘I need to make a phone call, if that’s OK?’
Miriam nodded, tears spilling down her cheeks again. ‘Yes, of course, sir. There’s a phone over there. Dial zero for an outside line.’
She pointed to a desk on the far side of the office, shuddering with a sickening feeling of déjà-vu. Jeff crossed the floor and dialled the number for his public relations manager. After a few rings, a woman’s voice answered.
‘Cath, hi. It’s me,’ he announced, sounding much calmer than he felt. ‘Yeah. In Sydney. Listen, I need a huge favour. No. Actually, nothing’s OK. Is there someone there with you? Good.’
Assembling the facts he now had to put into words made the billionaire cry again too. The more junior detective slipped out of the room while the bereaved man made his call, lingering awkwardly behind the reception desk. Desperate to stifle his emotions, Jeff continued, anticipating this to be one of the hardest messages he would ever have to deliver, and a trial run for the even more gruelling version he must shortly impart to his children.
‘Cath, there’s no easy way to tell you this, so I’m sorry.’
‘Sorry? Pardon? No easy way to tell me what?’ he heard from the other end of the line. ‘What’s wrong?’
Her boss took a deep breath and swapped the receiver to the other ear while he wiped his eyes. ‘Lynn’s dead, Cathy.’
‘Dead? No! She can’t be. How? When?’
Jeff looked at his watch. He had no idea how or when.
‘Fuck, I don’t know,’ he cried. ‘About half an hour ago maybe? We’re in The Pensione. She was shot in the head.’
By now, Stonebridge Music’s marketing manager was weeping too. ‘No! Oh, my God, Jeff. It can’t be true. That’s terrible, Jeff. What about you? Are you alright?’
‘No,’ the morose songwriter sniffed. ‘Can’t say I am. Listen… Please could you let the Childlight Sydney people know to make our excuses at lunch today? Don’t tell them anything specific. Just say something like “unavoidably detained”.’
The habitual showman found himself laughing, instantly filled with self-loathing. How could he crack a joke at a time like this?
‘Use your imagination, Cath, please?’ he grunted at the capable administrator. ‘And then close the office and go home. I don’t know when the news’ll break, so just go home and do your best to forget about it.’
‘Forget about it? Jeff, how do you expect me to forget about something like this?’ Cathy pleaded. ‘Are you sure there’s nothing I can do?’
‘Look, I can’t talk now,’ Jeff told her, fighting to maintain his own composure. ‘I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be rude. I need to ring the kids and deal with the police. I’ll call you back later. Thanks, Cath.’
The star didn’t wait for his assistant’s reply and terminated the call, leaning heavily on the desk to catch his breath. The pair of detectives immediately re-entered the room, thereby eliminating all sense of perceived privacy.
‘Jeff, would you like some tea or coffee?’ DI Fisher asked.
‘Yeah. Jesus Christ! Coffee. Thanks. That’d be great. What happens now?’
‘Please sit down. And please call me Bob. This is Detective Sergeant Andy Waters, and we’re from the Major Crimes squad at Surry Hills. We’ll get that coffee on the go.’
Jeff nodded to Waters, who had the demeanour of a man completely out of his depth. The pair sat down and stared at the floor in silence, waiting for the superior officer to return.
‘SOCO’s here,’ Fisher informed his colleague. ‘That’s Scene of the Crime Officers, Mr Diamond. Sorry.’
‘Cheers. I know,’ the civilian raised his hand. ‘And it’s Jeff.’
It was a long time since the former Sydneysider had found himself this close to a police operation, yet the terminology was etched indelibly into his brain. He wondered whether the older detective might remember his father’s case but chose not to bother to find out today.
DS Waters left the room, presumably to supervise the SOCO team. A tray of coffee was brought into the room by one of the scared receptionists, who said nothing and avoided everyone’s gaze.
‘Thanks,’ Jeff said, watching her scurry away. ‘It’s tough on these guys. Do they all have to stick around?’
‘For the moment, yes,’ Bob affirmed. ‘We need to at least have a brief chat with each potential witness, and then we’ll call everyone into the station to provide a statement over the next few days.’
‘Was the guy I caught trying to leave…’
The musician broke down again. It was difficult to come to terms with the probability of having apprehended his own wife’s killer. He who was descended from one murderer had fallen victim to another. Miss Irony, his old flame, seized his heart with both imaginary hands, keen to declare her finest hour had come.
‘Jeez. Sorry,’ the dejected man growled, taking a deep breath and running his hands through his hair. ‘Was he the bloke who shot her?’
‘Certainly a suspect,’ Fisher nodded. ‘We have him in custody already.’
‘Am I a suspect?’ the superstar asked, instantly regretting such a rash question.
‘Not at this stage,’ the stone-faced detective answered. ‘From what we can gather so far, your wife was asked to take a phone call a minute or so before the gun was fired. It’s too early to draw any conclusions. It appears the two events may be linked, but we don’t have any information as to who made this call.’
A trap, the intellectual thought; premeditated. He kept quiet, deep in contemplation as he sipped the hot, sweet coffee. Despite his denial, something in Bob’s tone seemed to suggest a scent of suspicion wafting his way.
Abruptly, he lifted his head and addressed the policeman again. ‘Christ! I need to phone my daughter. D’you mind?’
DI Fisher shook his head, stood up and headed for the door. ‘Of course, Jeff. We need to ask you a few questions as soon as you’re ready. While things are fresh in your mind.’
Shit! The former bad-boy knew this tactic well, and it filled him with shame. They obviously hadn’t satisfied themselves that he was the innocent party in this situation. He hadn’t had to fight for his freedom for many years and wondered whether he still possessed the guile to outsmart these trained investigators.
‘Would you mind asking someone to track down my jacket, please,’ Jeff called after the senior officer. ‘My mobile phone’s in one of the pockets.’
The inspector raised a hand in acknowledgement and continued down the corridor. Jeff struggled to remember where Kierney had been going this morning. It was now that he realised the benefit of paying attention to everyone’s schedule, yet the person who would undoubtedly have this information to-hand could no longer tell him.
Dialling the number for the family’s city apartment, his fingers hovered over the button, preparing to hang up before the answering machine message began. He couldn’t bear the idea of hearing his wife’s voice.
When it became clear that no-one was in, Jeff pressed down on the switch hook and exhaled, hunching over as if he had taken a blow to the stomach. After pausing to gather his thoughts, he dialled another sequence of digits which he hoped would connect him to Kierney’s mobile.
‘Hey, Kizzo. Soy yo.’
‘Hi, Papá!’ his daughter sounded delighted to hear from him. ‘What’s up? Good flight?’
Relieved that he had guessed correctly, Jeff’s eyes immediately began to sting again. He was about to scatter all the goodness from this gorgeous creature’s day. How could anyone be so cruel? His brown-eyed girl, with her infinite compassion and enthusiasm for life, was seconds away from discovering she and her brother were a parent short.
Must he tell her over the telephone, or could he convince her to board an aeroplane without knowing why? She would do so simply at his request, but that wasn’t treating her with the respect she deserved.
‘Where are you, pequeñita?’
He had to tell her straight, hoping she had some friends around her. There was no alternative. Lynn and he had always been up-front with their children and had sought nothing less from them in return.
‘Are you OK?’ Kierney replied, hearing a strained tone in her father’s voice. ‘You sound weird.’
‘Yeah? I am weird, gorgeous. You know that. But listen… Are you alone?’
‘Sorta-kinda. I’m in the studio working on some songs with Dane and Eddy. Why?’
‘Jesus, Kiz,’ Jeff blurted between involuntary sobs. ‘I need you to get on the next flight here, please. Something terrible’s happened, and we need to be together.’
‘Why? What, Papá?’ the teenager asked, frightened. ‘¿Qué ha pasado?’
‘Christ Almighty! I can’t believe I’m having this conversation with you. Life’s gone totally to shit. La mamá está muerta. She’s dead, baby.’
There was silence from the other end of the telephone line. Several seconds passed when neither father nor daughter made a sound, yet they understood each other perfectly. Jeff waited for a response, feeling slightly more stable now the news had been shared.
‘Someone shot her in the head, angel,’ he groaned. ‘That’s all we know. I was parking the fucking toy car they gave us. She took a phone call in the hotel foyer and now she’s gone.’
The father was sobbing again, slumped on the couch with his head in his hand and the receiver stuck to the side of his unshaven face in a mixture of sweat and tears. He could hear Kierney weeping and a man’s voice in the background asking if she was alright. Good, he thought, at least their sound engineers were there to help her out.
‘Sí, I’m here. I’ll ring Gerry and ask him to meet you at the airport. And Grandpa too.’
A shudder ran down his neck. That was a call he wasn’t looking forward to… His head ached with abject fear. Why was he always the one who had to break the bad news? It was just like the old days. How did a man tell a father that his daughter was shot dead while he was parking the car?
‘You ring Gerry, and I’ll ring Grandpa,’ Kierney suggested, sounding heart-wrenchingly like her mother: business-like and in control.
‘Absolutely not,’ her dad overruled, although sorely tempted to be let off this most dreadful of hooks. ‘I can’t possibly leave you to pass on such a shithouse piece of information. That’s my responsibility, gorgeous. I’ll call them both now, and then you ring Grandpa in about fifteen minutes. Is that OK?’
‘OK, Papá. Comprendo. Don’t worry. I’ll be up there as soon as I can. I can go right now. I don’t need to bring anything, do I?’
‘No. Nada, nada. Just yourself,’ he sniffed. ‘Just you. Gracias, pequeñita. Te amo.’
Ending the call, the desperate man sat staring into space, wondering how this dreadful day might unfold. Where was their luggage? Would they allow him to see Lynn again? Should Kierney see her mother in this state? Would she even want to? When would he be able to tell their son the terrible news?
Fisher cleared his throat to attract the superstar’s attention. ‘Sorry, Jeff,’ he began, ‘but DS Waters and I need to ask you some questions about your whereabouts at the time of the shooting.’
‘Sure. What d’you want to know? I’m not sure my memory’ll be able to give you anything too clear right now.’
His head pounding with the pressure of having to concentrate his curdling mind, the celebrity rewound and replayed the morning’s events for the two detectives. With each sentence, his heart sank deeper and deeper into the depths of despair.
‘I’d dropped Lynn outside the entrance while I went to park the rental next-door, as we normally do when we stay here. A small gesture of chivalry on my part, that’s all. The world’s most beautiful woman shouldn’t have to traipse through dank and dirty car parks. And trying to save a few minutes’ time in a busy day too, I guess.’
Waters’ pen scratched across the pages of his notebook, capturing as much information as possible while his boss pieced a sequence together on his own timeline. They would need evidence of the couple’s luncheon invitation, their flight details and room reservation. Dictating Cathy Lane’s number from memory, Jeff assured them she was a much more reliable source than he was, even at the best of times.
‘I’d like to know how you identified the man you apprehended as the shooter before you’d even got into the hotel?’ the inspector changed tack suddenly.
The celebrity inhaled, knocking his head against the wall above the couch in frustration. ‘Jesus Christ! What are you insinuating with this question? I didn’t identify him as anyone. It was a complete effing coincidence.’
‘Did you speak to him? Can you remember what he said to you?’ Bob asked.
Jeff took a restorative breath and stubbed out his cigarette, staring at the detective’s pen, which was poised above his notepad. Leaning forward, he fixated on the patterned carpet for a few moments before formulating an answer. He could visualise the man’s face well enough and set about reconstructing their short confrontation. He recalled noticing its look of astonishment as the pair met outside the revolving doors. It made him smile.
The senior officer shuffled his feet. ‘What’s funny?’
‘Sorry,’ the intellectual lifted his gaze. ‘It’s just such a bitter irony, isn’t it?’
‘What’s that?’ Fisher stiffened, twisting the barrel of his ballpoint back and forth.
His interviewee smiled. ‘Well… You go somewhere intending to kill someone, kill the guy’s wife instead and then get caught by the very bloke you set out to kill in the first place. That truly must’ve been a “Life’s a bitch” moment, don’t you reckon?’
The inspector remained serious, his professional duty overruling any sense of humour he might earlier have revealed. ‘This is not a joking matter, Mr Diamond. You’re still in shock. We could do this later.’
‘I’m not in shock. It’s only my warped mind,’ the bitter man contradicted. ‘I know how people’s brains work. I heard someone… Chris Nichols, I suppose… shout for no-one to leave, so I stopped him leaving. The guy spoke to me in Spanish.
‘At first I didn’t hear him because there was a racket coming from inside the building and the doors were creaking their way round, so I asked him to repeat it. He then said something like, “I wanted to kill you, but this way’s better,” which I’m guessing is pretty much what he said in the first place.’
Jeff paused to flash his dark eyes at the older detective. It was his impression that under different circumstances they might enjoy each other’s company. Now however, they were only making things worse for each other.
‘I wanted to grab the bastard’s arm and shake the words out of him,’ the widower continued, sickened by the recollection, ‘but thought better of it. Lucky I had my hands full with our luggage, otherwise I might’ve done. I have PTSD, by the way, Bob. I’ve learnt not to go with my instincts. Just so you know…’
‘Yes,’ Fisher nodded. ‘I think I read that somewhere about you. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Quite a few of my old uniform mates suffer from the same thing. Nasty business. Anyway… Please carry on. Did you say anything else to him? Or him to you?’
‘Nope. Don’t think so. I might’ve leant into him a bit ’cause he looked scared. Then he did a one-eighty and went back into the hotel. When we got inside, I left him with the security guy. Neither of us said anything else to each other. That’s all I can recall.‘
The forty-three-year-old fiddled with his black jet-stone ring, so long on his finger that he hardly knew it was there. He swivelled it around on his finger and then, chuckling at the reflex action, did the same thing with his wedding ring on the other hand.
‘Fuck,’ he muttered under his breath.
No more beautiful best friend. No more marriage. Family in disarray. How quickly life could change.
With some relief, he saw his mobile had been left on the coffee table while he had been facing the window, speaking to Kierney. Cursing under his breath at the missed calls he would now have to return, he picked it up and selected his business manager’s name from the list of numbers.
‘Lord Sparkle, how goes?’ Gerry Blake’s greeting was as bombastic as ever. ‘Aren’t you in Sydney today?’
‘Yes, mate,’ his most important client replied. ‘They’ve had phones up here for a while now, you idiot.’
‘That’s enough, you smart-arse. What can I do for you? I was just heading downstairs for a coffee with the lovely Fiona.’
‘Mate, I need your help, please. It’s an emergency. I need you to get to Tullamarine as fast as you can and fly up here with Kierney.’
‘Fly to Sydney? Why? What sort of emergency? Is she OK?’
‘No, mate . None of us is OK.’
‘Why? What do you mean? What the hell’s happened?’ Gerry demanded, sensing this was not the usual hiccough in proceedings for his long-time buddy.
‘She’s dead, mate,’ the songwriter answered, dispensing with any fancy euphemisms or decoration.
How many more times would he have to say these words? Jeff felt his heart pounding in his chest.
‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph,’ the suave executive murmured. ‘Who’s dead? Lynn? Tell me this is some practical joke you’re inflicting on me.’
The successful Melbourne accountant found it impossible to believe his most important client’s words could be true. He and his new lady had only met up with the forever couple for dinner a few nights ago, and now it appeared some sort of disaster had struck.
‘Oh, I wish, mate. Fucking hell! It’s chaos here. Police everywhere. I think I caught the bloke who did it, trying to leave the hotel.’
‘Holy shit! You are serious. Lynn’s been murdered? How did it happen?’ his manager asked, his voice muffled now. ‘Oh, my God. No way…’
Jeff could hear his old friend crying too. Lynn was loved by everyone. It was important to remember this fact. He wasn’t the only one who would be devastated by her death.
‘A clean shot to the head,’ the celebrity recounted with surprising detachment. ‘Sitting in the hotel lobby, answering a bloody phone call.’
‘Christ, mate. That’s fucked. How are you going? Are you OK?’
‘No. Not the best,’ the younger man sniffed, grateful for his friend’s innocent question. ‘Can you go to the airport, please, mate? I spoke to Kizzy about five minutes ago. She said she’d go straight there. I need you to go right now ’cause I don’t want her to be on her own for too long. I’ve got to contact old man Dyson too, if I can get hold of him.’
‘Sure thing, mate . Of course. What’s Kizzy’s number? I’ll see if I can give her a lift.’
‘No need,’ Jeff replied, forcing a smile. ‘She got her licence. Yesterday.’
Gerry allowed himself a chuckle too. ‘Shit! Did she really? Already? That makes me feel very old.’
‘Yep . Tell me about it. Anyway, I’ve got to go. There’s a posse of policemen wanting to question us all. I’d better get off the phone.’
‘Right-oh. We’ll see you as soon as we can. Hang on in there, mate. Does Cath know?’
‘Yeah. We had to cancel our lunch thing, and I told those guys to go home. It’d be good if you can ring her too, at some point. She was pretty gutted. Cheers, Gez,’ the seasoned campaigner rambled, once more slipping into autopilot. ‘Thanks heaps.’
The call crackled and then fell quiet. Jeff leant forward, elbows on knees, and his shoulders began to shake violently as delayed shock set in. His mind flashed back to the other evening, when his forty-six-year-old buddy had introduced Fiona in person for the first time.
All four had been in high spirits, he and Lynn keen to share in their fun-loving friend’s new joy. They were also just back from New York, where the chart-topping performers had received yet another recording industry award for the “Live On Earth” album.
The rock star’s numbed mind tried to picture his better half smiling at the pair’s drunken banter. He remembered how, drinking coffee back in Gerry’s luxurious bachelor pad after dinner, he had circled his arm behind her and squeezed her so close. She nestled into him, as she always did, because she knew how much he liked it. They had made love that night, as they always did, with the slow-burning passion of two people who had worshipped each other’s body for a lifetime or more.
Dismissing these pleasant thoughts with great reluctance, Jeff dragged himself back to the horrible reality which had befallen them. Time was ticking by, and there was no way he wanted Kierney to speak to Bart Dyson before he had. His heart raced, and the blood vessels throbbed in his head as he selected some choice words for his father-in-law to absorb. How would he react? Which important meeting was about to be disrupted? Where was he, even?
The widower stood tall and scrolled through the contacts in his phone, searching for Bart Dyson’s office number. He was gripped with fear at the prospect of breaking the news to the imposing Olympian. Walking over to the door and closing it, he pressed the green button and took a few deep breaths.
‘Dyson Administration,’ a bright voice answered. ‘How may I direct your call?’
‘G’day,’ Jeff croaked, forcing his vocal cords to function normally. ‘It’s Jeff Diamond. Is Mr Dyson in the office?’
‘Oh, yes. Hello, Mr Diamond. I’ll put you through to his PA,’ the operator responded.
The line clicked twice and was picked up by Penny, Lynn’s father’s executive assistant. The musician took another deep breath and repeated his question.
‘Oh, Jeff. It’s lovely to hear from you,’ came another cheerful reply. ‘Bart’s in a meeting and has asked not to be disturbed. I can ask him to call you back as soon as he’s free.’
‘No,’ the son-in-law countered. ‘Sorry, but this is more important, Penny, actually. It’s urgent that I speak to him right now, if you don’t mind.’
Hesitation in the woman’s voice made him even more nervous. ‘Oh, I see,’ she faltered. ‘Is something wrong?’
‘Yes. Something’s very wrong,’ Jeff threw his head back in frustration. ‘Please ask him to come to the phone. I really need to talk to him now.’
‘Very well. Of course. I’ll see what I can do,’ the well-spoken woman complied, picking up on an unusually insistent tone from the great man. ‘Hold on, please.’
The frantic caller had no choice. He held on for what seemed like an hour, going over and over some glib lines which seemed so inadequate to describe the tragedy. He had broken out in a cold sweat, just like in the old days, and the handset slipped in his hand.
‘Jeff, how are you?’ the sportsman blustered. ‘I gather you need to talk to me urgently. What’s up?’
Momentarily tongue-tied, the younger man rocked back on his heels to stop himself from falling over. He who was seldom lost for words found himself struck dumb. As he pieced an opening sentence together, he felt his legs weaken under him.
‘Bart, I have some terrible news.’
‘Yes, sir,’ Jeff nodded, exhaling through pursed lips. ‘’Fraid so. Lynn and I flew to Sydney this morning for a charity function, and some bastard took a shot at her in the lobby of the hotel. I can’t believe I’m telling you this, but Lynn passed away at the scene.’
Bart Dyson didn’t reply. The delay was terrifying, compelling the musician to continue the conversation. As he had told his daughter, this disagreeable task was his responsibility.
His conscience played him a memory of Lynn clowning around with the children in one of her many lessons on good manners: when one’s wife is shot while one is parking the car, one cannot shirk one’s duty to inform her parents, no matter how much one might wish to stick one’s head in the sand…
‘We think we caught the gunman,’ the lonely man spoke into the mouthpiece, switching the telephone to the other ear and drying his palm on his trouser leg. ‘We don’t know who he is or why he did it, but she’s dead. Stone fucking dead.’
‘Jeff… Are you… Oh, God,’ a much frailer version of the usual ebullience eventually squeezed into the caller’s brain. ‘Oh, my God. Why? Why would anyone want to kill Lynn?’
The bereaved superstar couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. ‘I have no idea, sir. I reckon he meant to get me. I caught the fucker trying to leave the hotel. He was a bloody nobody. A runt carrying a gun. I don’t know why he was there or what his motive was, but he told me he wanted to kill me. But he didn’t, did he? He killed your perfect daughter instead.’
‘Oh, my God,’ the older man repeated.
‘I’m sorry, Bart. So, so sorry to have to tell you this.’
Having surmounted the worst of his initial shock, the Olympian’s voice resumed its louder and more forceful timbre. ‘Oh, for God’s sake, Jeff. Don’t apologise to me. She was your wife. Bloody hell. This is a day I’ve always feared. Where the hell do these lunatics come from? And why do they single out the people who do the most good? She’s the mother of your children, Jeff. Oh…’
The songwriter slumped down onto the sofa and rested his aching back against the firm cushion, listening to his father-in-law sobbing. This was a day he had always feared too, and one for which they had put every conceivable contingency in place to avert. Every conceivable contingency except always allowing the valet to park the sports car…
‘Jesus fucking Christ,’ he hissed, cupping his hand over the mouthpiece.
‘Excuse me?’ Bart croaked. ‘Sorry, Jeff? I missed that.’
‘No. Nothing, sir. Are you able to get on the next flight up here? Gerry’s meeting Kierney at the airport. I don’t want her to fly on her own.’
‘No, no. Of course not. I’ll leave straightaway.’
‘Thanks a lot. Have you got Gerry Blake’s number?’
‘Yes. I’m sure we do somewhere. And I have Kierney’s too.’
‘She’ll be ringing you about now,’ his son-in-law added, his voice husky again as an image flashed into his mind of his little lady preparing to talk to her grandfather about a wholly grown-up topic. ‘I’d appreciate it if you could ring her first, if you can.’
‘Definitely, Jeff. No problem. I’ll organise to leave in the next ten minutes. Oh, my God. I have to speak to Marianna too. Two children gone now. Jesus fucking Christ.’
The widower had to laugh, but did so as kindly as he could. He didn’t recall ever hearing the fine pillar of society use any form of vulgarity before, and it sounded peculiar, even under these extreme circumstances.
‘That’s exactly what I said earlier,’ he admitted, ‘when you didn’t hear me. Fucking Jesus, fucking Christ, eh?’
The older man chuckled too. ‘Indeed. You’re a good man, Jeff. I’ll be there as soon as I can. Don’t worry about Kierney. We’ll look after her. Just look after yourself.’
‘Cheers, Bart. That’s great. Safe flight. And I’m sorry again. Adiós.’
With his head once more in his hands, the celebrity terminated the call and wept with renewed anguish. He was not a good man, regardless of his father-in-law’s endorsement. He had let someone’s daughter die. In fact, over the course of his life he had let three people’s daughters die. And here he was, waiting for his own innocent girl to arrive and make him feel better; something he deserved even less than the compliment.
Forcing himself out of the depressive spiral already taking hold, the modern-day philosopher wondered what this nameless gunman had hoped to accomplish by killing either of them. Who was he, this Spanish-speaking bloke who had appeared so ordinary and unassuming? Was he a lunatic, as Bart suggested? Or perhaps he was championing a cause. What had they done to push him to such an extreme measure?
Through the blur of memories and questions, Jeff slowly became aware of the two detectives loitering at his side, along with the hotel manager.
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