Cocaine. Construction. Corruption. The unholy trinity. This latest Peter Tanner thriller from Richard Beasley digs into Sydney’s dirty underworld. Enjoy this extract from The Burden of Lies.
Oliver Randall told his driver to park in a side street and said he’d be twenty minutes.
The bar he was going to was familiar territory. It was where exchanges were made, contracts settled.
He ordered a drink and found a stool in the beer garden. It was nearly six on a Friday, and the place was beginning to hum with the after-work crowd. He was looking at a table around which four women were laughing when a man sat opposite him.
He hadn’t noticed him approach.
‘You’re Garry, I assume?’ the man said.
In the short moment it took Randall to process a series of observations – mid-thirties, well groomed, expensive suit – the man spoke again.
‘Brad sent me,’ he said.
It was ‘Brad’ he was due to meet. Randall kept a small and exclusive list. Selling to too many people increased the risk. Brad and the other regulars supplied Oliver Randall with large amounts of cash. He, in turn, provided them with precise quantities of high-quality cocaine that he acquired frequently, but which he never had to pay for himself.
‘He’s busy,’ the man said, unprompted by Randall.
Randall picked his drink up and took another sip. ‘Who are you?’
The man smiled. He had his own drink, a beer, which he placed next to Randall’s. ‘A colleague of Brad’s,’ he said. ‘He hasn’t mentioned you.’ Randall had always dealt directly with his customers, never with a middleman. He was the middleman.
‘We’re business partners.’
‘How do I know that –’
‘I’ve got the cash in my car,’ the man said. ‘Do you have what Brad ordered?’ He took a sip of his beer, and smiled at Randall again.
Randall drained his glass, nodded, then followed the man out.
Randall did two lines of coke in the back of the bank’s Mercedes on the way to the casino. He was now up to three grams a day, every day of the week. For consumption, he’d turned semi-pro. He was sure he could control it. Work remained unaffected. Profits had never been higher.
The South-East Banking Corporation had had a few nervous weeks at the peak of the GFC – mainly in that brief period when it seemed like the world’s lines of credit might freeze up, and who knew for how long. That was a lifetime ago. SEBC’s balance-sheet stability soon presented once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. They’d swallowed some competitors at rock-bottom prices in the bloodbath. Some of the deals were blackmail.
Tonight, Randall was entertaining four clients. Each was in the construction and development game. Infrastructure, resorts, high-density apartments. A radio ‘personality’ had been invited, someone from a reality TV show, and a retired football star. Those three would go through more coke than the profit-creating clients combined. And it wouldn’t surprise him if they wanted more than one girl. They had before, and it always created a problem. The coke and the girls were provided by the same supplier. You could get them individually, but for ‘client entertainment’, Randall had authority to take the package deal.
Randall had booked a penthouse as their HQ. Several suites and premium rooms had also been reserved and allocated according to the amount of business each of the guests did with SEBC, or the amount the bank hoped to attract.
Friday night traffic across the city pushed his timing out, and he was nearly half an hour late. The bank’s guests were sitting on a long, crescent shaped couch in front of the big television when he arrived, drinking vintage champagne and watching a game of rugby. What a combination, he thought.
Finger food had been set up on the marble benches and the dining table. Mezes of all kinds; Sydney rock oysters on trays of ice. In the background, through the wraparound windows, the lights of the west side of the city had lit up for them.
Randall was about to greet the clients on the couch when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
‘Here he is,’ the man said loudly. ‘Scandal Randall.’
It was Jeff Maxwell. The more repugnant half of a detestable radio duo. Still, he somehow added ‘reach’ for the bank’s advertising.
‘Maxy,’ Randall said loudly, giving his best smile. ‘What can I get you? Another drink?’
‘The agenda, mate,’ Maxwell said, winking and smiling.
The agenda meant the running sheet of the night’s activities. They had a wine merchant coming for dinner, who was going to take them through his latest fancies of Nebbiolo and Barolo from northern Piedmont. Then they’d hit the tables for high rollers in the inner sanctum or sovereign room. Randall had two grands’ worth of chips to give each client. It frequently only took an hour or two for most of them to either blow that amount, cut their loses, or decide to keep their winnings. After the eye and nose candy arrived, there was usually about an hour of ‘partying’ before the clients wanted to retreat to the privacy of their rooms.
Randall touched Maxwell near the elbow, a conspiratorial gesture he seemed to like. ‘Come with me,’ he said, looking in the direction of the bedrooms.
Randall gave Maxwell the remaining line of coke he had on him. ‘You’ll find it’s up to the usual standard,’ he said as he arranged it on one of the tables next to the king bed, before handing Maxwell a small straw. He’d joked with another executive at the bank about getting the SEBC logo printed on some straws, just for nights like this.
Maxwell smiled weakly, and looked at him. ‘I take it – later there’ll be . . .?’
‘A lot more,’ Randall said. ‘And they’ll be bringing it with them.’
Maxwell’s smile broadened. A child in a cocaine and hookers store.
Hours later, after tables of chance were played to varying degrees of success, Randall had the bank’s guests rounded up in the gambling salons and assembled back in the Penthouse like kids on a school excursion. The girls were waiting.
There were seven guests, and two bankers as well as Randall. There were ten girls, and a dozen eight balls of cocaine. It was rare for a girl to be untaken, but there was always coke left over. What Randall didn’t use personally, he sold to trusted customers. He had a big salary, but he paid a lot of tax. The coke was a kind of refund.
A new girl caught his eye when they arrived, and he asked her name after he’d settled with the representative of the goods and services provider who’d made delivery. ‘Angie’ had long brown hair and legs, and eyes so startling he thought they had to be contacts. If Randall knew how to describe colours with more precision he would have said they were jade. In his own mind he settled for green. She had green eyes, and she was beautiful. So beautiful she looked like an android created in the future for men who wanted perfection beyond the usual specifications of our species. He stared at her, and she nearly melted what coke and commercial banking had left of his heart. He didn’t care what any client had in mind. She was his.
Oliver Randall’s daughter looked up when he walked into their kitchen the next morning. She glared at him for long enough to register something – contempt, disgust, perhaps both? – before looking back down at her single slice of toast. He put his house keys on the end of the kitchen island where she was eating, and said hi. No response. She was in her school hockey gear. She had a game at noon, he remembered now. He hoped his wife was
preparing to take her. He was in no state to drive.
As he considered the options for Saturday school sport transportation, his wife appeared in the kitchen. She looked at him for no longer than his daughter. The exact same look, one that unambiguously suggested a serious monologue was brewing on the horizon.
‘I couldn’t leave before the clients,’ he said.
His wife didn’t reply. She’d wait until their daughter was gone before starting. He’d be up for it by then. The house in Bellevue Hill hadn’t materialised out of thin air. He’d earned it. He was about to ask her when she was taking their daughter to sport when the front gate intercom sounded. He walked to the far wall of the kitchen and pushed a button.
‘Yes.’ A long pause. ‘Yes.’
‘Mr Randall? Umm . . . it’s Sam. Sam Bailey. I’m – I’m here . . .’
‘Oh,’ he said. The Baileys had come to take his daughter to sport with their own. ‘I’ll buzz you in.’
‘Mr Randall?’ the girl said, sounding anxious.
‘There are some men here.’
‘They want to see you. It’s – they’re police.’
He could feel a strong pulse in his wrist. His chest tightened. For a long moment he didn’t breathe.
There were eight of them. They had a search warrant. One of them explained what it said. Another had a video camera. The one who spoke to him – a senior detective, early fifties, sounding almost bored – told him he could have a witness for the search, that he could call a lawyer.
He had coke in his jacket. Two eight balls. It was the first thing they found. That was all though. He did not have the packages one of them said they’d found in his study. He started to tell the cop who was in charge that he’d never seen whatever was in those packages before. The man next to him took off his glasses. He gave a wry smile. He was a good-looking guy.
He was ‘Brad’s’ colleague from the pub last night.
6 years later
The flat in Redfern smelt of cooking fat. He’d cleaned the kitchen three times now with bleach, even used drain cleaner. It had to be in the walls. Still, it was what he could afford. People on parole, looking for work, rarely moved straight back to somewhere like Bellevue Hill.
He heard the knock on the door as he was about to turn the TV off. The screen was tiny. It ran against the circle of life. Your televisions were supposed to get bigger.
He walked to the door. If it was that girl again, he’d be firmer this time, tell her to piss off.
‘Oliver? It’s me, mate.’
The voice sounded vaguely familiar. When he opened the door, the face was not.
The man pushed him backwards. He held a gun. ‘Go down there,’ the man said.
Once in the kitchen, Oliver Randall no longer smelt fat. In his panic, he’d started to disassociate. ‘I’m not saying anything,’ he said.
The man pointed the gun at Randall’s right knee, pulled the trigger. The bullet hit the patella in the middle, blowing it into half-a-dozen pieces.
Randall made a primordial noise, grabbed at his leg. The next bullet missed the other knee, hit the bottom of the left femur.
Randall didn’t feel the heat from the nozzle near his forehead. His pain response had pushed his system to overload. He heard the man, though. An apology.
‘Sorry, mate,’ he said. ‘They told me to do it this way.’
This is an extract from The Burden of Lies, out now from Simon and Schuster.