Can a man who’s lived a life of crime ever escape his past?
The world’s most reluctant private investigator is about to find out…
Former bad boy turned local hero, Bill Murdoch, should be happy with his little piece of paradise. After all, he’s got the fancy car and the big house by the beach. The only trouble is he’s slowly suffocating in small town life.
So when Murdoch is hired to investigate who framed wealthy businessman, James Harte, for murder, he jumps at the chance. Going undercover amongst the jet set, Murdoch is quickly drawn into an exciting world of yachts, horse racing and glitzy parties. But soon Murdoch’s shady past looks set to catch up with him and when he falls for Harte’s beautiful wife, Amanda, things take a deadly turn.
CLASS ACT is the gripping new murder mystery from bestselling author, Ged Gillmore. A perfect piece of modern Australian noir, it will grab you and keep you guessing until the very last line.
‘Oh, you want a detective story? A nasty crime up front, is that right? And then, let me guess, you want to spend the rest of the book working out who did it and why?’
The woman’s voice was frail and tinny, trembling with the vibrations that carried it down the phone line. Murdoch wanted to correct her, but it was the first time they’d spoken; he didn’t know how to do it without being rude. Besides, she was excited now, barely listening to his hesitant noises.
‘A murder!’ she said with a gasp. ‘Some nice young girl getting brutally slaughtered. Oh yes, and you’re desperate to see it solved. What you want is a book that’s going to make you read late into the night, a story to make you miss your stop. You want to turn the pages breathlessly. Then, at the end, when you find out who the murderer is … you’re surprised and yet it makes complete sense!’
‘And you want to find out who did it on the very last line of the very last page of the very last chapter of the book. Am I right? Am I? Isn’t that what you want?’
When Jennifer’s new housemates warned her about the rush hour traffic in Sydney, she thought they had to be exaggerating. Or, more likely, pulling her leg. No doubt they thought this country girl – newly arrived from Mudgee – didn’t know how to use Google Maps and couldn’t work out for herself that the drive from Cremorne to Surry Hills could only ever take half an hour, no matter the time of day. Oh, how they had underestimated her.
Jennifer liked the idea of driving herself to work. Crossing the Harbour Bridge every morning and making her way independently in the big city. She might only be a Junior Accounts Analyst for now, but – as had been stressed frequently during her interviews – her new employer was the fastest-growing PR agency in the country and the opportunities for an ambitious young graduate were limitless. As she left the house on Monday morning – the first Monday of a sweltering February – Jennifer smiled in the knowledge that she was a young woman going places. Half an hour and little more than two kilometres later, when at last she turned onto the Warringah Freeway, she saw the vehicles that had slowed her this far formed only a small part of a far greater traffic jam. Here on the freeway, dozens of cars every minute entered the throng, creeping down from suburbs further north or squeezing themselves down the irregular sliproads to join the six-lane approach to the harbour. Together they conspired to form a gridlock that spread, baking and unbroken, between her and her first day at work.
By the time she pulled up behind the offices of the Hoxton Harte Agency, Jennifer was twenty minutes late. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the coffee she had drunk before leaving the house had combined with her nervousness about her new job – plus the anguish of an hour in aggressive traffic – to exert a painful pressure on her bladder. Parking badly and ignoring the sucking humidity outside the car, she sprinted around to the front of the building.
The Hoxton Harte foyer came as a shock. Jennifer’s interviews had been held over the phone and in a drab airport conference room. By then, of course, she had known all about the company and its famous clients (not to mention its well-known owners); she had even seen pictures of its converted warehouse offices. But to experience them in the flesh was something else.
The end of the building inside the glass front doors had been hollowed out into a space four storeys high. Every centimetre was covered with white gloss tiles. The only visible colour was behind the reception desk, where, in acetate pinks and blues, a five-metre female face, suggestively licking a strawberry ice block, filled the wall. The space was busy – high heels clicking in all directions, dark suits moving quickly, every woman dressed in black – and Jennifer was momentarily overwhelmed. Then she took a deep breath and reminded herself she was supposed to be there: that she had a good degree and had passed the gruelling interviews. She hurried over to the long white desk, standing in line until, at last, she could speak to the receptionist.
‘Could you tell me where the nearest bathroom is?’
‘Do you work here?’
The woman behind the desk was as distinctive a splash of colour as the oversized image on the wall behind her. She was petite, with precisely cropped blonde hair, huge green eyes and flawless make-up. Attached to her emerald-green dress was a diamond brooch that caught the light from the glass doors to the street. As Jennifer gave her name and started to explain it was her first day at Hoxton Harte, the receptionist adjusted her telephone headset as if it, like the brooch, was a piece of expensive jewellery.
‘Sorry, just one second.’ The receptionist held up one perfectly manicured hand and used the other to jab at the control panel sunk into the desk before her. ‘Hoxton Harte, please hold. Hoxton Harte, please hold. Hoxton Harte, can you hold? Hello, Hoxton Harte?’
Ten minutes, thought Jennifer. It might be ten minutes before she got to a bathroom, so her bladder would just have to wait. She wouldn’t even worry about it until her watch showed eight minutes had passed. Perhaps she could even imply to the Finance Director, a rather stern woman called Emma Druitt, that the busy receptionist had been the main cause of her lateness. But two slow minutes later, her bladder threatening to burst, lateness was the least of Jennifer’s concerns. Shifting her weight from foot to foot, she looked around desperately for anything that might be a bathroom. To her left was the sunlit doorway to the street, three men drinking takeaway coffees and looking at their watches. Behind her were two glass lifts and, wrapped around them, the intricacies of a pale wooden staircase. To her right was a white tiled wall. The receptionist smiled at her – sorry! – and made a twirling gesture with one perfect hand, as if saying she’d just wrap up this call and then she’d be able to help. But Jennifer knew she couldn’t wait that long. She returned her attention to the three men at the door. The one closest to her had sleepy blue eyes, as if he’d just woken up, pale skin and a dark mop of curly hair. He caught Jennifer looking and smiled. She smiled back, took a deep breath, and crossed the reception area towards him and his friends.
‘Sorry to bother you’, she said from a few metres away. ‘Do you know if there are any bathrooms on this floor?’
Everything was fine. She had sounded confident; she hadn’t whispered it or shouted it, hadn’t said it too fast. There was nothing embarrassing about needing a bathroom.
‘Through there’, the good-looking man said, pointing with his coffee at the tiled wall on the other side of the foyer. ‘Watch out for the step.’
Jennifer frowned and followed the direction of his arm, noticing, for the first time, a thick door-shaped line around a section of tiles in the far wall. One of the other men said ‘Angus’ in a warning tone, but Jennifer had already smiled her thanks and turned away, trying her best not to walk too quickly.
Close-up, the piece of wall was, in fact, a door: it even had a white door handle and this, on her second attempt, Jennifer was able to turn. The door was stiff, but, using her shoulder, Jennifer managed to push it open, wincing as its hinges protested in piercing squeals. Stepping through, she found herself in a little backyard: a dark, derelict space, damp and puddled, empty but for half a bicycle and a collapsed pile of boxes. A small patch of sky was visible high above.
‘No one will mind!’ yelled the man from the other side of the rush hour reception, ‘but you might want to close the door behind you!’
He needn’t have bothered being so loud. It wasn’t like anyone hadn’t noticed her standing in the dank space, blushing in her cheap black suit. Jennifer saw the man laugh, his blue eyes disappearing behind his tan as his friends grimaced into their coffees. She looked at her feet – and away from the stares of everyone else in the foyer. Stepping back inside, she pulled the door closed behind her and told herself that no matter what happened, even if she wet herself there and then, she was not going to cry.
The receptionist’s voice was like a fire alarm and several people across the lobby flinched. She was on her feet, five-foot-six in four-inch heels, headset in her right hand, one of her exquisite fingernails pointing across the tiles.
‘Do you think that’s funny? Do you?’
Please’, said Jennifer. ‘It’s fine.’
She said it quickly and quietly, with none of the confidence she’d pretended when asking for the bathroom, but everyone heard her. There was nothing else in the foyer to listen to. The receptionist made the same twirling gesture as before, pointing with her other hand this time at the pale wooden staircase that spiralled around the lifts.
‘Up to the first floor,’ she said. ‘You’ll see the sign.’
Jennifer thanked her and hurried over to the curve of stairs. As she climbed, she had a clear view of the continuing conversation in the foyer. The receptionist was still on her feet, staring at the blue-eyed man at the door.
‘Which anyone with any sense of decency could have told her,’ she said loudly. ‘A common courtesy, you’d have thought.’
‘Oh, calm down, Charlie.’
The man at the door said it a little too coolly, as though he wasn’t as sure as he’d like to be that the receptionist wasn’t the only one who hadn’t got the joke.
‘I will not calm down, Angus! That young lady there was getting her first impression of this place and I am embarrassed, embarrassed, yet again by your complete lack of professionalism. Why don’t you pick on someone your own size for once?’
And then, in the near silence that followed, the receptionist sat down and said, as if for herself, but loud enough for everyone in the foyer to hear. ‘If you can find anyone with a dick that small. Hello, Hoxton Harte, thank you for holding, how can I direct your call?’
Barely suppressed laughter rippled across the reception area, smirks and snorts echoing off the shiny white tiles. Someone coughed and someone else whooped. The man called Angus merely snapped something sharp at the men beside him before turning through the bright arch of the doorway and out into the street. Before Jennifer had reached the top of the stairs, the receptionist’s voice rang out again.
‘And what are the rest of you looking at?! Haven’t you got overpaid jobs to go to?’