His thick hair had protected his head, but blood was oozing out and trickling across his forehead. I wet a washcloth in the bathroom, filled a glass with water and brought them to him. I put the cloth up to his head and lifted his hand to hold it there. I put the glass in his other hand and lifted it to his mouth.
‘Drink it,’ I said.
He was dazed and uncoordinated but he gulped down some of the water and kept the cloth in place. My shoulder hurt where he’d hit me but compared to him I was in very good shape. His leg twitched and he yelped as the knee hurt him. The pain seemed to clear his brain and he stared at me as if he couldn’t believe someone so much older had taken him so easily.
‘You’d be Alexander Mountjoy,’ I said. ‘Michael Tennyson’s pimp and gofer.’
‘Fuck you,’ he said.
‘We’re going to have a talk, Alex, but first I need a drink.’
‘Badly damaged and the longer it stays without treatment the worse it’ll be. You might try this new synthetic stuff the footballers go in for. Not sure if it’ll work for the medial and the cruciate, but...’
‘Talk about what?’
I went upstairs and got the miniature tape recorder Hank had given me as a birthday present and put it in my pocket. Then I got a bottle of scotch and a couple of glasses from the kitchen. I poured two hefty drinks, gave him one and put my hand in my pants pocket to turn on the recorder.
‘Let me get a few things straight. You’ve been helping Tennyson harass Jane Devereaux - delivering obscene material, following her, and you broke into her flat and stole some letters, right?’
‘Fuck you again.’
‘The longer it takes, the worse for the leg.’
‘Okay, okay, yes. I did what I was told to do. No one got hurt.’
‘Why is Tennyson doing this?’
‘He’s crazy, he’s obsessed with the ugly cunt.’
‘And you drove your car at Mary Oberon. Was that on Tennyson’s instruction, too?’
‘Yeah, that bloody whore fucked up. She was supposed to screw Forrest up good and proper, but she wasn’t up to it. She was supposed to get photos and she fucked that up.’
‘And she wiped the emails.’
‘Right, the dumb cunt.’
‘Tennyson’s an unforgiving employer, eh?’
He didn’t respond.
‘All right, here’s the big one. Why did you shoot Bobby Forrest?’
He’d drunk most of the scotch and was wincing with pain but suddenly his manner changed. He gaped at me.
‘You heard me.’
‘I didn’t shoot him.’
‘Tennyson said he’d have him killed.’
He shook his head and the movement hurt his leg. ‘Look, Tennyson’s crazy but he’s not that crazy. He’d have got me to beat him up, sure, and I’d have been glad to do it - cocky brat. But that’s all.’
It wasn’t what I expected to hear and I had to struggle to control my reaction. The trouble was, I believed him. His surprise and alarm were genuine, no doubt about it.
‘You followed him and Jane Devereaux in a white Commodore. Forrest spoke to me just before he was killed and he was being followed by a white Commodore.’
‘There’s a million fucking white Commodores.’
That was true.
‘Tell me what happened tonight.’
He told me that he’d phoned Tennyson and reported that I’d hit Jane Devereaux. Tennyson told him to wait for me and hurt me.
‘Kill me?’ I said.
‘No! Just put you in hospital for a long time.’
‘Weren’t up to the job, were you?’
‘Call an ambulance.’
‘I’ve got a better idea.’ I took the tape recorder from my pocket, turned it off, rewound it a bit and hit play.
‘... crazy, he’s obsessed with the ugly cunt.’
‘Oh, Jesus,’ Mountjoy said.
I poured him another drink. ‘Got your mobile on you, Alex? You’re going to give Tennyson a call.’
I pointed to his knee. ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some bone splinters drifting around in there. Every minute counts.’
He made the call and I took the phone.
‘This is Cliff Hardy. I think you know who I am.’
A nicely modulated private school voice.
‘I’ve got Alex Mountjoy here and he’s not feeling very well.’
‘Yes. I’m going to play a tape of our conversation. I suggest you listen carefully.’
I played the tape. Mountjoy sweated. He used the wet cloth to wipe his face.
‘What do you want?’ Tennyson said.
‘It’s not a question of what I want. It’s what I demand, what I insist upon. I can make as many copies of this tape as I like and send them where I choose, starting right now. Imagine the TV news, imagine the blogs, imagine the share prices of your companies.’
‘You are not to make any kind of contact with Jane Devereaux. You are not to phone, email or write to her, nor to approach her.’
‘You hit her.’
‘That was a charade. Mountjoy fell for it and so did you. Have you understood so far?’
‘Think about the restraining order she could get if she used that tape.’
‘You’ve made your point.’
‘I’m not finished. You are not to cause her any professional difficulties. I know you have influence in the publishing world. If she runs into any trouble that threatens her position the tape gets distributed. Do you understand?’
‘Same goes for me. Any smell I get of your interference in my affairs and the world learns what a pathetic, bullying prick you are.’
That got to him. His voice took on an edge: ‘Is that all?’
‘No, you’d better send some people for Alex. We’re at my place in Glebe. A couple of paramedics and a tame doctor if you have one. Better bring a gurney and some way he can travel comfortably.’
‘I gather you thought I was responsible for Forrest’s death.’
‘I was wrong there. Do you know who was responsible?’
‘No, but whoever it was has my congratulations.’
He hung up. I handed the phone back to Mountjoy.
‘He’s not happy, Alex.’
They arrived forty-five minutes later - two men in tracksuits with a trolley and another in a business suit with a doctor’s bag. I met them at the door and waved them in with my .38 in my hand. The doctor looked startled when he saw the gun; the other two didn’t.
‘Has he had any medication?’ the doctor asked.
‘Scotch,’ I said.
One of the tracksuited guys sniggered.
I stayed by the door while they made their arrangements. The man who’d sniggered approached me, showing that his hands were empty.
‘What did you do to him?’
‘Not much. He mostly did it to himself.’
‘Good on you, he’s a ripe shit.’
Mountjoy yelped and swore a couple of times and gave me a filthy look as he was wheeled past. I watched as they loaded him into the back of a station wagon. Then one of the helpers walked back to Mountjoy’s Commodore. I waited by the open door with the pistol behind my back until both cars had gone.
I put the gun away, finished my drink and poured another. I got rid of the bloodstained cloth and sat with the tape recorder in my hand. I ejected the cassette - a tiny object to have such a decisive impact. Sort of decisive. I called Jane.
‘It’s over,’ I said.
‘What do you mean, Cliff?’
‘Tennyson and Mountjoy weren’t behind Bobby’s death but I’ve fixed it so that Tennyson won’t bother you again. He won’t ever contact you or cause you any professional trouble.’
There was a pause. ‘How did you manage that?’
‘I applied the right kind of pressure to the right person.’
‘That’s the answer you gave me once before. It means you won’t say.’
‘It doesn’t matter, Jane. It just means that you can get on with your life without worrying about Tennyson.’
‘And without Robert. So you still don’t know who killed him?’
‘No, but I’ll keep looking.’
‘However can I thank you, Cliff?’
‘Just send me a copy of the book about the top copper.’