The Dunbar Case(4)
Author:Peter Corris

    I couldn’t remember reading or hearing about Twizell, but a few years back I’d spent ten months in the US and in my delicensed period I didn’t pay too much attention to what was happening on the dark side. With the Sydney Morning Herald online at the State Library it wasn’t hard to catch up.

    Four years earlier, when I was helping a friend prepare for championship fights in America, Twizell had been convicted of assaulting his lover, Kristine Tanner, in Newcastle. Drugs were involved and there was a fair degree of provocation. He was sentenced to seven years with five to serve before becoming eligible for parole. It was a sordid, run-of-the-mill case that hadn’t attracted much media attention. The Herald’s reports were spare and there were few photographs. Twizell, thirty-nine, was a stocky individual with a shaved head and a belligerent stare; Kristine Tanner, thirty at the time of the attack, had been hospitalised for several months and had undergone extensive reconstructive surgery.

    I printed out a couple of the reports and underlined some names. Twizell had been represented by Courtenay Braithwaite, who I didn’t know but I was sure my solicitor, Viv Garner, would. One of the police officers giving testimony was Detective Inspector Kevin Rush, who I had met under not very friendly circumstances some time in the past. I also underlined the name Tanner without quite knowing why. I was punching in Viv’s number when it came to me— Tanner was the name of the woman who’d registered the child Wakefield believed to be William Dalgarno Twizell’s son. Well, it was a common enough name. I had a feeling there was something more to the name than that but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

    Viv knew Braithwaite.

    ‘Is he any good?’ I asked.

    ‘Fair to middling.’


    ‘He’s getting on like the rest of us. I shouldn’t think so. Loves a drink.’

    ‘Like the rest of us.’

    ‘Speak for yourself. I’m off it.’

    ‘If it doesn’t make you live longer at least it’ll feel like it.’

    ‘He can be fun,’ Viv said. He undertook to ring Braithwaite, vouching for me. I gave it a few hours and rang his chambers. I was put through to him. He said he’d been glad to hear from Viv and asked how he could help.

    ‘You represented John Twizell.’

    I heard a wheezy sigh. ‘I did. Not one of my successes.’

    ‘I have a client who has an interest in him.’

    ‘That’s understandable; he’s an interesting character in his way. What’s the nature of the interest?’

    I wasn’t prepared to tell him much until I’d sized him up. ‘Perhaps we could meet?’

    He agreed, named a wine bar in Castlereagh Street and suggested five o’clock. Early for knock-off time. Looked as if he wasn’t busy.

    ~ * ~

    The Cellar Bar was one of those below-ground joints that enjoy popularity for a while before jaded, fickle drinkers move on to somewhere else. As the name implied it had a theme defined by low beams, wooden barrels and a flagstoned floor. Drinkers could sit at tables or on benches if they wanted to feel especially authentic. The lighting was soft but adequate to see what you were drinking, and there was muted piano music playing. At 5.05pm there were only three customers—a young woman and her rather older companion, and a man on his own with a glass in front of him and a newspaper open at the racing page.

    I approached him. ‘Mr Braithwaite?’

    He looked up. He bore more than a passing resemblance to the late Lionel Murphy—thinning grey hair, bags below the eyes, jowls and a nose that glowed like a stoplight.

    ‘You’d be Cliff Hardy,’ he said, ‘the notorious private detective. I’m delighted to meet you. Can’t understand why it’s taken so long.’

    He half rose and we shook hands. I’d had a lot of time for Lionel Murphy, who I’d met once or twice, not least because I had benefited from his no-fault divorce law, and I was prepared to like his look-alike.

    ‘Don’t sit down.’ He drained his glass and held it towards me. ‘Mine’s a double brandy and soda.’

    I went to the bar and bought his drink and a glass of red for me. Braithwaite was putting the paper in his briefcase when I got back to his table.

    ‘You’re a punter?’ I said.

    He took a pull on the drink and shook his head. ‘Cheers. No, part-owner. Foolish, but it’s an interest in my declining years. You’re bearing up well after all the slings and arrows I’ve heard about.’

    ‘Just about,’ I said. ‘I’d like to have a talk about John Twizell.’

    ‘You realise I’m only talking to you because I’m interested in someone with your reputation and because Viv Garner says you can be trusted and I trust his judgement.’

    There was nothing to say to that so I just drank some wine.

    ‘Anyone else coming to me with an interest in Johnnie and I’d ring the police straight away.’

    I’d been getting ready to relax into some kind of cautious but more or less cordial interchange, but this made me sit up straight. ‘Why’s that?’

    ‘Outside of prison, Johnnie Twizell could count the days of his survival on one hand. Inside, he’s doing well to last this long.’

    ‘Please explain.’

    ‘You’ve heard of Jobe Tanner, surely?’

    I had, and that was the other reason the name had caught my eye in Wakefield’s text. Tanner was a high-level Newcastle crime figure. A fingers-in-every-pie type who kept the really dirty stuff at arm’s length while profiting from it. He’d been called before two royal commissions and had been charged a few times for conspiracy and other difficult-to-prove offences but acquitted. Witness intimidation was second nature to him. Braithwaite saw me processing the name and nodded.

    ‘Kristie Tanner is his daughter. He swore to kill Twizell.’

    ‘That seems extreme. He didn’t kill the woman.’

    ‘No, but he damaged her very severely. Her injuries were so bad that I succeeded in getting the judge to withhold the photographs from the jury. Prejudicial. It was about the only success I had in the matter. Jobe Tanner has the means to do it, particularly in the persons of two very nasty sons.’

    It was a fair bet that Wakefield knew this and took it as a reason to hire someone with the right experience to approach Twizell. Megan was right: I seemed to find trouble without having to look for it. But I’d taken Wakefield’s money and I needed it.

    ‘You’d advise me to steer clear of Twizell,’ I said.

    ‘Absolutely, but I know from the look of you and your reputation that you won’t. You’d better tell me what your interest is. I owe Viv Garner a favour or two and I might be able to suggest a way to keep you out of Tanner’s clutches.’

    He finished his drink and pushed the glass towards me. ‘Listening’s hard work and you’d better have another while you consider how much to tell me.’

    He was a shrewd old bird and I liked him. I got the drinks and some nuts and settled down to give him a severely edited version of the story, preserving as many of Wakefield’s confidences as I could. He listened closely, sipping his drink and nibbling nuts, seemingly unaffected by three double brandies.

    ‘I’m not surprised that Johnnie Twizell has some interesting antecedents,’ Braithwaite said when I’d finished. ‘He’s pretty much wasted his life with drugs and gambling and women but he’s a man you feel could have done something better.’

    ‘I know what you mean; unlike a lot of people you feel have got further than they should have. Politicians in particular.’

    He laughed, setting up a wheezing coughing fit that turned his face purple. He pulled out a Ventolin inhaler and gave himself a few puffs.

    ‘And judges,’ he said when he’d got his breath back. He laughed again but suppressed it so that only a few slight coughs resulted. ‘I don’t suppose you can be more specific about this information your client is seeking.’

    I shook my head. ‘He’s playing it very close to his chest. When I confirm that I can see Twizell he’s going to text me a set of questions. From what I know it’s about something written—a letter maybe, a diary or journal, a confession.’

    ‘Intriguing. What’s in it for Johnnie?’

    ‘Money, possibly.’

    ‘He’d appreciate that.’

    ‘You like him?’

    ‘I wouldn’t say that. He has charm. He’s amusing. Do you know what someone in his position needs above all? What we all need, come to that?’

    ‘Tell me.’

    ‘Something to look forward to. I must say I haven’t got it. Do you have it, Mr Hardy?’

    ‘I’d have to think about that.’

    ‘Bad sign. Anyway, I’m on record as Johnnie’s legal chap and I can recommend a visit for you as my representative.’

    ‘Thank you.’

    ‘Only snag is that I imagine the Tanners have a watching brief on Johnnie’s visitors. You’ll have to be careful.’

    ‘I can manage that. Another drink?’

    ‘No, three’s my limit. I’ll just sit on this one and contemplate mankind’s folly.’

    ‘Good name for a horse.’

    He raised his old man’s thick, snaggled eyebrows. ‘Don’t make me laugh. You saw what it did to me.’

    ~ * ~

    The next day Braithwaite’s secretary emailed me that an appointment had been made for me to visit Twizell in two days. A letter from the lawyer giving me his authority was attached.

    I called Wakefield to report on my progress.

    ‘I knew you were the man for the job,’ he said.

    ‘But you didn’t tell me Twizell had savagely assaulted a female member of a notorious crime family. What else haven’t you told me?’

    ‘Nothing. Let’s not get off on the wrong foot. When are you going to Bathurst?’

    ‘Tomorrow, driving.’

    ‘Call me when you arrive. I’ll text the questions I want you to ask.’

    I wasn’t happy about it; I felt manipulated, but that was nothing new in the business I was in. The thing to do is to be aware of it and be prepared to manipulate back.

    I’d got into the habit of letting Megan know when I was going to be out of town. She’d go to my house and collect the mail and sometimes she’d take Ben over to play there as a change from the flat. She needed to know that the coast was clear for that. She said she liked to be sure I didn’t have a woman installed or visiting, but it had been a while since that had happened.

    I hadn’t expected grandfatherhood to affect me the way it did. I felt enormous relief when Megan’s baby arrived safely and I thought that’d likely be the strongest emotion I’d feel. Wrong. The first time I held Ben I felt something quite different. Perhaps because I’d missed out on Megan’s babyhood I felt it more strongly than most grandfathers—a sense of the thread of life continuing.

    That feeling eased off, of course, but a powerful sense of protectiveness and interest in the boy’s development remained. I didn’t go overboard. I did an occasional baby-sit and I installed a folding cot in my spare room. A few kids’ books on the shelves down at his level and some plastic plates and eating gear.

    ‘Bathurst?’ Megan said when I phoned her. ‘Never been there. Didn’t they have some trouble about water a while back?’

    ‘Yeah, I think they held a vote on whether to recycle sewage.’

    ‘How did it go?’

    ‘I think the nos won it.’

    ‘That’d be right. Well, take care, Cliff. How long’ll you be away?’

    ‘Don’t know.’

    ‘That’d be right, too. Should be nice out there at this time of year. Bit bracing perhaps. Be sure to take all your pills with you.’

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