Authors: Dorothy Johnston
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Women Sleuths, #book, #FF, #FIC022040
The first of my mystery quartet,
The Trojan Dog
, was joint winner ACT Book of the Year, and the
gave it their âBest of 2000' in the crime section. It was published in Australia by Wakefield Press and in the United States by St Martin's Press. The second,
The White Tower
, was also published in Australia and North America, and the third,
, appeared in 2007. All three feature the cyber-sleuth Sandra Mahoney and her partner, Ivan Semyonov, along with Detective Sergeant Brook, of the ACT police. The fourth book, which completes the series, has an environmental theme, and is about who is going to win the battle for our seas and oceans. Each in the series is set during a particular season, hence the title of autumn:
The Fourth Season
. All four are available as ebooks.
I'm currently working on a sea-change mystery series, set at the home of
, the TV series, on the south coast of Victoria. The first of these is called
Through a Camel's Eye
Two of my literary novels,
One for the Master
, have been shortlisted for the Miles Franklin award. I've had numerous short stories published in magazines and anthologies, and I regularly review fiction for Fairfax newspapers.
I'm a founding member of the influential â7 Writers' group, which began meeting in Canberra in the early 1980s, and continued as a writers' workshop and discussion group for almost twenty years. A subject which continues to fascinate me from a literary point of view is Canberra, Australia's national capital, where I lived for thirty years before returning to Victoria. I'm also a member of the Australian Society of Authors and Sisters in Crime, Victoria.
You can find out more about me and my books by visiting my website:
By Dorothy Johnston
The Sandra Mahoney Quartet
The Trojan Dog
The White Tower
The Fourth Season
Maralinga My Love
One For the Master
The House at Number 10
Eight Pieces on Prostitution
1 The Parade West
South Australia 5067
First published 2007
This edition published 2013
Copyright Â© Dorothy Johnston, 2007
All rights reserved. This book is copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of private study, research, criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright Act, no part may be reproduced without written permission. Enquiries should be addressed to the publisher.
Cover designed by Liz Nicholson, designBITE
National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry
Johnston, Dorothy, 1948âÂ Â Â .
Eden: a Sandra Mahoney mystery.
ISBN 978 1 74305 283 9 (ebook: epub).
1. MurderâFiction.Â Â Â I. Title.
To Kim Johnston
Eden Carmichael died on a hot Tuesday afternoon in January. He was found lying across a double bed at one of Canberra's best-known brothels, dressed in a blue and white flowered silk dress and a blonde wig.
Carmichael's loyal constituents felt betrayed by a death of such robust indignity. Not that he had many loyal constituents left. He'd never fully recovered from a spectacular public heart attack, and was rumoured to be retiring before the next election.
Others, who'd never voted for him, were drawn to the politician's death by a mixture of boredom and revulsion. A photograph had been printed in
The Canberra Times
a few days afterwards, of Carmichael in his flowered dress and wig. He stared at the camera from beneath a mass of yellow hair, one hand clutching the top button of his dress, with a dazed and wondering expression. He could have been drunk. Some of the people who sent protest letters to the newspaper concluded that he was. The most bitter and accusing of them reminded readers how Carmichael had argued that the ACT should change its laws and make prostitution legal, as though being found dead in a brothel was a logical consequence of this, and no more than he deserved.
Others speculated about who had sold the demeaning picture to the paper, whether its publication constituted a breach of privacy, and if it been taken on the day he died. None of these questions was answered in the one editorial the
ran on the subject, which concentrated instead on the issue of freedom of the press.
More interesting questions, to my way of thinking, were: who had Carmichael been mocking that hot afternoon, besides himself? How had the joke of his last moments been shared?
Details continued seeping out, though not ones that threw light on these particular concerns. I wondered if the published photo was the only one that had been taken, and concluded that it seemed unlikely.
Canberra was a small enough city for any untimely public death to be felt personally. Cracks opened in the minds of citizens whose lives had in no way touched that of the Independent MLA. Television interviewers dug out anyone who had, or could claim, a connection with the man, or the club in which he'd spent his final hour, and the subject of prostiÂtution, which had received little public attention for a decade, was daily in the news.
I lingered over my breakfast, savouring the quiet, and staring at the photograph, attracted to it as so many others were. I hadn't cut it out, but folded the page over and left it at the one end of my kitchen table cleared of children's clutter.
Carmichael faced the camera squarely. His dress looked neat. It fitted him. He wasn't wearing make-up. The picture was cut off just below the knees, so I couldn't see his shoes. He appeared to be a little nervous, as though he was waiting for someone who'd been unaccountably delayed. There was nothing to identify exactly where he was. It was an arresting picture, though not, to my mind at any rate, a degrading one.
Later that morning, after I'd washed up my few breakfast dishes, and begun work on as dry-as-dust report, one of Carmichael's former Âcolleagues at the Assembly rang.
He introduced himself as Ken Dollimore, a veteran of Canberra politics and Carmichael's oldest rival, then asked for my partner, Ivan Semyonov. When I explained that Ivan was in Moscow, he asked me to send him a copy of a report Ivan had written for an anti-censorship lobby group.
âIt's on the net,' I told him.
Dollimore seemed to be waiting for me to catch on to something he hadn't explained, and apparently didn't want to explain.
âI'm interested in anything additional your husband did for them.'
âWhat might that have been?'
âOh, come now. It hardly helps Electronic Freedom's image to Âsuppress its own research.'
It was my turn to be silent.
it's called, that your husband refers to in his report, it's important to know if there's any further information about them, in informal notes, for example, that haven't yet been published.'
I had no idea what was in Ivan's notes, but I wasn't about to admit this to Ken Dollimore, much less offer to send them to him.
âI suggest you try Electronic Freedom directly, since you seem confident of their obligation to supply you with whatever it is you're after.'
Dollimore hung up.
I recalled the last occasion I'd exchanged words with the Canberra politician. It was during a case that had ended with a young radiographer at our major hospital being charged with murder. Dollimore had been Health Minister at the time, and had done all he could to block my access to the hospital's records, even those that were supposed to be publicly available. Now here he was expecting a favour from me, and not even bothering to be polite about it.
I remembered that a woman called Lucy who worked for Electronic Freedom had rung Ivan and asked if he'd look into
's history. The lobby group was campaigning vigorously against the Internet censorship legislation that had just been passed, and looking for ways to discredit its supporters.
produced filter software, and the company had put out a press release in support of the legislation and of mandatory content regulation. Hardly a surprise, since they stood to make money out of it.
Ivan had been in two minds about the job, but had finally agreed to do what he could in the rushed couple of weeks before he'd left for Moscow with our three-year-old daughter, Katya.
We'd celebrated our fifth anniversary as business partners just before he left. Sometimes it seemed a small miracle that our consultancy had survived, that we'd managed to go on making a living. âComputer security checksâfast, discreet, efficient', our ad in the yellow pages said. Our names were under itâIvan's followed by a list of diplomas and degrees, mine, Sandra Mahoney, without any such obvious recommendation. Most of our work came from small firms and agencies who wanted to improve their security, or suspected that something fishy was going on, but were unwilling to call in the police. Electronic security was big business. Ivan and I hadn't succeeded enough to expand ours, but we'd hung in there, and that, I told myself, was reason to feel pleased.
I found the report. It was very short.
specialised in blocking technologies for filtering out undesirable material on the Internetâthat much I already knew. They were based in Sydney and had begun life as a private company in 1996 with start-up capital of a modest half million dollars, going public with their first share offer just two years later.
looked like hundreds of computer companies, who so far had not made any money, but had managed to attract some reasonable-sized investors on the promise that very soon they would. The world was full of people investing in the Internet. The skill was in picking a winner, or trading on promises, then getting out before the crash, which Ivan said was just around the corner.
was making a play for sales to schools and libraries, and, like everyone else, fighting competition from America.
I didn't know a whole lot about filters, but I did know that the Âtechnology was at a pretty crude level of development. It might stop six-year-olds coming across couples having sex, but it stopped access to a whole lot of perfectly unpornographic sites as well.
I looked up Ivan's notes, and printed out a hard copy since I couldn't find one on his desk. Eden Carmichael's name appeared in connection with a presentation
had put on last November for Senator Bryant, the Minister for Broadcasting and Telecommunications. Carmichael seemed to have been in favour of
, and impressed by the product they'd come up with. Ivan had listed all the members of the Federal Parliament, and Canberra's Legislative Assembly, who'd been at the presentation, and had checked with a friend of his, who'd confirmed that Carmichael appeared to be giving the company his blessing.
There the notes came to an abrupt end.
It wasn't unusual for politicians to become more conservative as they grew older. There were famous examples, like Winston Churchill and Billy Hughes. But the idea that Ed Carmichael should suddenly take up a pro-censorship position conflicted with everything I knew about himânot least the circumstances of his death. Why that particular switch? Why not a religious conversion, which I was sure Ken Dollimore would have loved, and brought about if he'd been able to?
I was getting ahead of myself. Perhaps Carmichael had been moving away from his small âl' liberal views on a number of issues. I recalled the drama surrounding his first heart attack, when he'd fallen over the Blackwood banisters at the old Parliament House, landing just inside the main entrance. I hadn't seen him fall, but I had seen him lying there. Like many others present, I'd thought he was dead.
In order to avoid going back to the report I was supposed to be writing, I logged onto the Australian Securities and Investment Commission website. It was a requirement for all companies to register with ASICânames and certain basic details, such as year and place of registration, and their directors' names.
had only one director, Richard McFadden.
For more details, it was necessary to pay one of the brokers. I filled in my credit card details, and typed a list of questions.
.Â .Â .
A couple of hours later, the answers were there for me to download. McFadden was listed as the major shareholder, but I was disappointed there was so little information about him available under ASIC's rules. Apparently McFadden was not, and never had been, director of any other company, nor did he own shares in any company but his own. Only the top twenty shareholders had to be included in the information that was sent to ASIC. All were fairly minor, underlining the point that
was McFadden's company. The top three were a brewery, a real estate group, and another group called
Herman Marcus Limited
, which was registered with a Canberra solicitor. Carmichael's name was not among the shareholders, nor was Ken Dollimore's.
's website, which I visited next, was a mass of kindergarten colours, big balloons and beach balls with large, naively formed words around them leading to different sections of the siteâmission statement, investment newsâ
CleanNet Is Family Friendly
. The combination of images and words was a curious one, since the product was aimed, not at children, but their parents. What preschool-aged child, the kind I imagined being attracted by red and yellow letters leaning against each other, was going to go surfing for net porn? What person over the age of eight would think the design anything other than condescending? There was something suggestive, almost obscene, about the balloons and their configuration. Collections of swollen testicles, they could have been, or silicone-inflated breasts. I looked for the site designer's name, but couldn't find one.
I did a bit of site hopping between filter companies next. I hadn't realised how much of a censorship debate had been going on at the level of online marketing, with companies out to attract buyers for their products, and their shares as well. Many sites included investment advice and nicely coloured graphs showing beautifully rising prices. Their critics pointed out how faulty the technology was, how clunky and unreliable. The names and addresses of the blocked sites were encrypted, so consumers could never find out exactly what they, or their children, were being protected from, nor were the owners of the sites informed. If you were an AIDS sufferers' support group, and had your site blocked because it happened to contain the word âpenis', there was no way you could appeal.
No one was answering the phone at Electronic Freedom. They were probably taking a long lunch break at the beach. I looked for any additional notes Ivan might have made, but couldn't find any. Ivan followed his own filing system. You needed to be trained in his eccentric form of archaeology to make sense of it.
Ivan and I shared one house, office, bed and occupation, but the words husband and wife carried too much weight to use, or even think of. A part of my wariness was that we'd both been married before. I'd known early in my first marriage that it wasn't any good, but it had taken me a long time to pay attention to this knowledge, or to act on it, while Ivan had taken years to recover from a failed marriage. Sometimes I suspected that he hadn't recovered at all.
I sent him an email, asking about links between Carmichael and
, and whether he'd come cross any further information concerning
's director, Richard McFadden.
It depressed me that it would be at least six hours before I could expect a reply, and probably longer. Ivan was checking his mail once a day at most. Mentally and emotionally, he was far away from Canberra, concentrating on our daughter and his sisters, re-weaving threads that had loosened almost to dissolving after his parents died.
I admitted to myself that I was wasting time, and might just as well be at the pool. I was doing what I despised others for doing, leaping at any connection with Eden Carmichael to give my day a bit of excitement.
I hadn't chosen to spend most of January alone. I had my son Peter's dog, Fred, for company, but I hadn't planned it this way. I'd intended to spend the time with Peter, while Ivan and Katya were visiting Ivan's sisters. Halfway through last year, Ivan's younger sister had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She'd had a partial mastectomy and recovered well. Ivan had begun to plan his trip. Then the week before school broke up, Peter's father, Derek, had announced that he and his second wife Valerie wanted to take him to Tasmania with them. There was no question of changing Derek's mind, and Peter had been happy to go. He'd spent the time between Christmas and New Year reading about convicts.