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Wyatt, the cool, ever-evasive thief, snatches the cash easily enough. He bypasses the alarm system, eludes the cops, makes it safely back to his hideout in Hobart. It's the diamond-studded Tiffany brooch—and perhaps the girl—that undoes him. Now some very hard people want to put Wyatt and that brooch out of circulation. But this is Wyatt's game and Wyatt sets the rules—even if it means a reckoning somewhere far from home. In a murky world where the cops are robbers, old-style ...
Wyatt, the cool, ever-evasive thief, snatches the cash easily enough. He bypasses the alarm system, eludes the cops, makes it safely back to his hideout in Hobart. It's the diamond-studded Tiffany brooch—and perhaps the girl—that undoes him. Now some very hard people want to put Wyatt and that brooch out of circulation. But this is Wyatt's game and Wyatt sets the rules—even if it means a reckoning somewhere far from home. In a murky world where the cops are robbers, old-style criminal Wyatt positively shines.
“To Disher’s usual brisk pacing, add heaps of noir...a banquet for those who like it uncut and unsparing.”
—Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
"The scheming that goes into [Wyatt's] heists is outstanding in its originality."
"Folks who are fans of Richard Stark's Parker will find much to like in Wyatt."
—Reviewing the Evidence
Praise for the Wyatt series
"Like an Australian Bob le Flambeur, Disher's titular robber is smooth, calm and planning a big heist."
Carlyle Street, Double Bay, 7 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, the air clean and cool. Behind closed doors in the big houses set back far from the street, people were beginning to stir, brewing coffee or standing dazed under showers. Wyatt imagined the smell of the coffee, the sound of the water gurgling in the pipes.
But not at 29 Carlyle Street. According to Jardine’s briefing notes, the house would be empty for the next few days. It was the home of Cassandra Wintergreen, MP, Labor member for the seat of Broughton, currently in Dili on a fact-finding mission.
‘Champagne Marxist and ALP head-kicker from way back,’
Jardine had scrawled in his covering note. That meant nothing to Wyatt. He’d never voted. If he read the newspapers at all it was with an eye for a possible heist, not news about political tussles.
His only interest in Wintergreen lay in the fact that she had
$50,000 in a floor safe in her bedroom: a kickback, according to
Jardine, from a grateful developer who’d asked her to intervene in a planning dispute regarding access to a strip of shops he was building in her electorate.
Wyatt continued his surveillance. Whenever he staked out a place he noticed everything, no matter how trivial, knowing that something insignificant one day can be crucial the next; noticing in stages, first the general picture, then the finer details; noticing routes out, and obstacles like a rubbish bin or a crack in a footpath that could bring an escape undone.
There were two gateways in the long street frontage,
indicating a driveway that curved up to the front door then back down to the street. Shrubs and small trees screened the front of the house from the footpath and from the houses on either side.
It all spelt money and conviction.
Conviction. Wyatt had grown up in narrow back streets. His mother had never spoken about his father and Wyatt had no memories of the man. Wyatt had earned himself broad convictions on those narrow streets. Later he’d read books, and looked and listened and acted, refining his convictions.
Jardine’s floor plans revealed a hallway at number 29, two large front rooms on either side of it, and a range of other rooms at the back and on the upper level. Jardine had marked three possible hitches for Wyatt’s attention. One, the house was patrolled by HomeSecure once a day, usually around midnight; two, the alarm system was wired to the local cop shop; three, he’d not been able to supply the cancel codes for the alarm system but the combination for Wintergreen’s safe was her birth date: 27–03–48.
Jardine built his jobs on information supplied by claims assessors in insurance companies, the tradesmen who installed security systems, surveillance reports and bugged conversations collected by bent private detectives. A word dropped here and there by real estate agents, chauffeurs, taxi drivers, bank clerks, casino croupiers, clubland boasters.
Wyatt watched for another five minutes. It was the variable in any situation that kept him on his toes. Without the habit of permanent vigilance he knew that he’d lose the edge, and that might mean a final bullet or blade or at the least steel bands manacling his wrists. There was always the unexpected change in layout or routine, the traffic jam, the flat battery, the empty safe. But these were things you could never fully prepare for, so you hoped they’d never happen. If they did, you tried to absorb them as you encountered them and hoped they wouldn’t trip you up. The innocent bystander was often the worst that could happen. Man, woman or child, they were unpredictable. Would they panic? Stand dumbly in the line of fire? Try to be a hero?
Wyatt hated it if they got hurt or killed—not because he cared personally but because it upset people, particularly the police.
Satisfied that the house was empty, Wyatt crossed the street to number 29, a brisk shoe-leather snap to his footsteps. Dressed in a dark, double-breasted coat over a collar and tie, swinging a black briefcase, he might have been the first businessman up that morning. Soon cars would be backing out of driveways,
white exhaust gases drifting in the air, but for the moment Wyatt was the only figure abroad on the long, prosperous streets of
He paused at the driveway. A rolled-up newspaper was lying in the gutter nearby. Wyatt had dropped it there unseen in the dark hours of the morning, but anyone watching from a nearby window now would have seen him bend down, pick up the newspaper and stand there for a while, looking indecisively up the driveway at the house as if he were asking himself whether or not he should take the paper in or leave it there where it could be damaged or stolen. They would have seen him decide. They would have seen him set off up the driveway, a kindly passerby,
banging the paper against his knee.
The front windows could not be seen from the street or the houses on either side. Wyatt swung the briefcase, smashing the sitting room window. At once the blue light above the front door began to flash and Wyatt knew that bells would be ringing at the local police station. He had a few minutes. He wouldn’t rush it.
The newspaper was tightly rolled in shrink-wrapped plastic.
It had the stiffness and density of a small branch. Wyatt dropped it under the window and walked unhurriedly back down the driveway and onto the footpath again.
In the next street he took off the coat and tie, revealing a navy blue reversible jacket. There was a cap in the pocket. He put that on and immediately looked as though he belonged to the little Mazda parked near the corner. Dark, slanting letters on each side spelled out ‘Rapido Couriers’ and he’d stolen it from a service depot the night before. Couriers were as common now as milk vans in the old days, so he wasn’t expecting questions and he wasn’t expecting anyone to be looking for the car in Double
Bay. He climbed in and settled back to wait, a street directory propped on the steering wheel—an old ploy, one that worked.
He fine-tuned the police-band radio on the seat next to him in time to hear the call go out. He heard the dispatcher spell the address slowly and give street references.
‘Neighbour call it in?’ a voice wanted to know.
‘Negative. The alarm system at the premises is wired to the station.’
‘A falling leaf,’ the patrol-car cop predicted. ‘Dew. Electrical fault. What do you bet me?’
Another voice cut in: ‘Get to it, you two.’
It was as though the patrol-car cop had snapped to attention.
Wyatt heard the man say, ‘Right away, sarge, over and out,’ and a minute later he saw the patrol car pass, lights flashing behind him on Carlyle Street.
The toothache didn’t creep into his consciousness, it arrived in full, lancing savagery. Nerves twitched and Wyatt felt his left eye flutter. He couldn’t bear to move his head. It was the worst attack yet, arriving unannounced, arriving when the job demanded his full attention. He tapped the teeth on his upper left jaw, searching for the bad one as though finding it would give him some comfort. It was there, all right.
He snapped two paracetamol tablets out of a foil strip and washed them down with a bottle of apple juice. Then he took out a tiny jar of clove oil, shook a drop on his finger, rubbed it into his jaw and gently over the tooth. He’d been doing this for five days now. He didn’t know if the painkillers or the clove oil did much good. They didn’t make things worse, so that was something in their favour.
Wyatt blocked out the pain and concentrated on the radio. It was good to be working alone, the appeal of the planning and the execution—and, if he cared to admit it, of the anticipated and actual danger. He thought for a moment about these jobs Jardine was blueprinting for him. In one instance, three months earlier,
a millionaire had hired them to get back the silverware collection he’d lost to his ex-wife in the divorce settlement. In another, a finance company had paid to have a bankrupt property developer who owed them two million dollars relieved of two undeclared
Nolans and a Renoir.
The radio crackled. The patrol car came on the line: ‘False alarm.’
‘Explain, please,’ the dispatcher said.
The voice might have been writing a formal report. ‘Constable
Wright and I approached the premises. We observed that a front window had been broken. On closer examination, we discovered a rolled-up newspaper lying on the ground under the window.
Constable Wright obtained entry to the premises through the broken window. The premises are furnished but empty and intact. We await further instructions.’
The sergeant came on the line. ‘Knock off the fancy talk.
You reckon the paper boy got a bit vigorous?’
‘Looks like it, sarge.’
‘Okay, go back in, turn off the alarm, and shoot over to the highway. There’s been a pile-up.’
‘Meanwhile I’ll give the security firm a bell and get them over to seal the window.’
Wyatt continued to wait. When he saw the patrol car leave along Carlyle Street, he reversed into an alleyway, got out, and pasted HomeSecure transfers over the Rapido name. Finally he pulled on overalls stencilled with the name HomeSecure and drove around to number 29, spinning into the driveway with a convincing show of urgency. Pulling up at the front door, he got out, cleared the remaining shards of glass from the window frame with his gloved hand and climbed over the sill and into the house.
He made straight for the main bedroom. It was a curiously flattened room: a futon bed base and mattress at ankle height,
low chest of drawers, squat cane chair in one corner, built-in closet, no pictures on the walls. Only curtains existed above waist level and they admitted the blurry light of early morning onto the bed. It was also an asexual room, as though Wintergreen spent all of her passion brokering deals somewhere else, for her profit or for the profit of those who might one day help advance her career.
The safe was under a heavy Nepalese rug at the foot of the bed. Wyatt lifted the floorboard panel, keyed in the combination,
heard a hum as the electronic lock disengaged.
He opened the door and looked in on a cavity the size of a small television set. There were papers and files stacked in there,
but not the fifty grand that Jardine had promised. Wyatt emptied the safe and knocked against the sides and base with his knuckles.
He snorted. The bottom was false.
Wyatt pushed experimentally at the corners. The base lock was a simple push-pull, spring-loaded catch. He swung it open.
The fifty thousand was there all right, bundled in twenties,
fifties and hundreds. Wyatt stacked them into slits in the lining of his overalls. Twenty-five for Jardine, twenty-five for himself.
He paused. There was something else down there in the darkness: a small, soft, black velvet bag. Wyatt reached down,
pulled it out.
The object that tumbled into his palm gleamed softly in the light of his torch. It was a butterfly, 1930s Deco style, with an eight-centimetre wingspan. The body consisted of 2-carat diamonds set in gold. The wings were also gold, set with flowing rows of baguette diamonds in channels alternating with rows of round diamonds. He turned it over. A thin line stamped in the gold read Tiffany & Co.
Wyatt added the butterfly to the fifty thousand dollars.
Jardine would know someone who’d know what to do with it—sell it overseas as it was or melt the gold setting and sell the stones separately. A local buyer was out: the larger stones could be identified and traced too easily—they’d be on record somewhere,
able to be matched to an X-ray or a photograph.
He was out of the house and easing down the driveway five minutes after he’d gone in. He paused for a moment at the gate,
then eased the Mazda onto the street. There were more people about now: children walking to bus stops, men and women heading to work in glossy foreign cars. They looked scrubbed clean and well fed, that’s all Wyatt knew or cared about them.
Wyatt’s tooth was giving him hell by the time Ansett’s early breakfast flight from Sydney touched down in Melbourne on
Wednesday morning. He always travelled light, knowing that if anyone intended to grab him it would be while he waited around for his luggage to tumble onto the carousel. He had an overnight bag with a change of clothing in it, wrapped around the Tiffany and the fifty thousand dollars. And where possible he avoided leaving a paper trail, even with fake ID, so he walked past the hire-car booths and caught a taxi.
Thirty minutes to Brunswick Road, and even on the exit ramp it was bumper to bumper. He checked the time: 8 a.m.
They should be awake in the Coburg house.
The cab driver turned left off the exit ramp and headed east along Brunswick Road.
‘I’d like to give Sydney Road a miss,’ he said, ‘if that’s okay by you?’ Wyatt nodded his assent. Sydney Road was the most direct route into Coburg but he knew that it would be bad, locked with peak-hour trams and heavy transports. The driver turned left a couple of streets before Sydney Road and wound his way deep into Coburg, a region of hot little streets and weatherboard houses, finally delivering Wyatt at the entrance to a dead-end strip of asphalt ten houses long. Wyatt got out, paid the man, let his senses register that he was safe, then headed for the white weatherboard where Jardine was maybe slowly dying.
Jardine’s sister opened the door. She was careworn, thin, a spasm of emotion pulling her mouth down at one corner when she saw it was Wyatt at the door. It was a look Wyatt knew well,
so he said her name carefully, softly, barely murmuring it:
Sourness became exasperation and she said, ‘Why don’t you leave us alone? We’re managing. You’re just bringing back bad memories.’
‘Did he say that?’
She looked away stubbornly. ‘It doesn’t do him any good,
‘Let him be the judge of that, Nettie.’
Jardine’s sister bit her lower lip. Then she shrugged, closed the screen door in Wyatt’s face and disappeared down the gloomy hallway to a room at the back. The house was in need of restumping and the interior smelt of cooped-up humans and dampness. The house was rented. The wallpaper, carpets,
light fittings and laminex benches were left over from the dismal end of the 1950s, and Wyatt looked forward to the day when he could rescue Jardine and the sister and place them somewhere better.
Nettie materialised from the shadows, hooking limp strands of hair behind her ears. She resembled an Oklahoma dustbowl survivor, etched cheekbones and eyes wide, dark and longsuffering.
‘I just want you to know,’ she said, opening the screen door to admit Wyatt into the house, ‘he doesn’t blame you but the rest of us do.’
Wyatt stopped and stared at her. His voice was cold, factual and remote, with no detectable emotion in it: ‘Nettie, he knew the risks.’
Jardine came from a family of half-bent secondhand dealers and back-of-a-truck merchants. They were careful and stayed out of trouble. Jardine’s getting head-shot six months ago on a job with Wyatt had been unaccountable, the kind of thing that could have happened to anyone, but it was a first for Jardine’s family and Jardine was the only one who wasn’t blaming Wyatt for it.
‘He knew the risks,’ Wyatt repeated.
What Wyatt wasn’t admitting was that he did feel some responsibility—not for the fact that he’d put Jardine at risk, but for what had happened since. When he’d first seen Jardine again after the job, Wyatt had been shocked by the change in the man with whom he’d pulled a dozen successful jobs over the years, a man he liked and trusted—as much as Wyatt liked and trusted anyone. Six months earlier, Jardine had come out of retirement as backup on the hit on the Mesic compound looking fit and alert, a man with a slow-burning good humour, but they’d been ambushed after the Mesic job and Jardine had been head-shot, a graze above one ear. Wyatt had paid Jardine his fee, taken him to a doctor who didn’t ask questions, and gone to ground in Tasmania, a base where the wrong people would never find him.
He’d assumed that Jardine had gone back into peaceful retirement, but the Jardine he’d seen in Sydney a few weeks later was partly paralysed along one side, kilos lighter, a few IQ points slower and duller. Jardine tended to forget things. He owed two months rent. Pizza cartons and styrofoam coffee cups littered his pair of rooms at the Dorset Hotel in Newtown, and it was clear that he wore the same clothing for days at a time.
Wyatt had hauled his old partner off to a 24-hour clinic,
fabricating a cover story to account for the wound which still showed as a raw slice in Jardine’s scalp. ‘Stroke,’ the doctor diagnosed. Probably brought on by the injury. Jardine needed professional care. Was there someone who could look after him for the next few months? A friend? Family? A live-in nurse, if that could be afforded?
Wyatt contacted the family in Melbourne. For two days he let himself be tongue-lashed by them. Finally Nettie said she’d take Jardine in. Wyatt had known someone would. All he’d wanted was for them to say so. ‘I’ll pay the bills,’ he told them.
Nettie had never married. She’d had a job in the Kodak factory but lost it a year ago and didn’t like her chances of getting another. She found the Coburg house, a dump with enough room for two adults at a monthly rent that wouldn’t cripple Wyatt, and
Jardine moved in with her. All their needs—medical, domestic—
Wyatt paid for.
He knew it was temporary and he looked forward to the time when he could score big and set Jardine and Nettie up for life.
Get that unwanted weight off his mind, his back.
‘I promise not to upset him,’ he told Nettie now.
Nettie had made her point. She turned away from Wyatt in the hallway and opened the door to one of the front rooms. She jerked her head: ‘He’s out the back.’
Wyatt clasped her arm gently and gave her a package. ‘To keep you going,’ he said. ‘Twenty-five thousand.’
Nettie didn’t look at the money, didn’t count it. The money disappeared with her into the front room and Wyatt’s final contact with her that morning was the sensation of her thin arm in his fingers and a sound that might have been a muttered
‘thanks’ hanging in the air between them.
He walked through to the back of the house, a fibro extension with a low, buckled ceiling and dust-clogged louvred windows.
The only good thing about it was the morning sun striking it through a fig tree in the yard outside. The air was warm, a little streaked and blurry owing to the dust motes stirring in the angled sunlight, and smelling only faintly of illness, privation and cut-short dreams.
Jardine clawed a hand over the old bakelite smoking stand next to his lumpish armchair. His mouth worked: ‘Mate,’ he said at last, smiling lopsidedly. ‘Where did you spring from?’
‘The Double Bay job, remember?’
Wyatt spoke harshly. He hated to see the weakness in Jardine.
Jardine seemed to exist in a fog a lot of the time now and he wanted to cut through it. ‘The MP on the take, Wintergreen.’
Jardine looked across at him, wavering, trying to draw back the spittle glistening on his lips. His left hand rested palm up in the threadbare brown blanket in his lap. The left half of his face was immobile. A strange, inappropriate expression formed on his face and Wyatt realised that his old friend was frowning, trying to recall the briefing session, the job itself. Then Jardine’s face cleared. A smile of great sweetness settled on it, and his voice was clear: ‘Got you now. No hassles?’
Wyatt shook his head. ‘I gave your share to Nettie.’
Jardine shook his head. ‘Mate, I don’t know how to thank you. Me and Net—’
A lashing quality entered Wyatt’s voice. ‘Forget it.’
Jardine straightened in the armchair. His right hand fished a handkerchief from the pocket of his cardigan and he wiped his chin defiantly. ‘Okay, okay, suit yourself.’
Wyatt unbuckled his overnight bag. ‘I found a piece of jewellery hidden with the money. Valuable, Tiffany butterfly.’
‘We need someone who can offload it for us.’
Jardine laboured to his feet and shuffled into the adjoining kitchen. A short time later, Wyatt heard his voice, a low murmur on the telephone.
He stared across the room at the little computer perched mute on a card table. Jardine used it to cross-reference jockey weights, track conditions, blood-line and other horse-racing factors. In five years he claimed to have won $475,000 and lost
$450,000 using his system. What people didn’t know was that
Jardine had also spent the past few years selling burglary and armed holdup plans to professionals like Wyatt. Wyatt didn’t know how many jobs Jardine had on file, but he did know that they were all in New South Wales and that all would grow rapidly out of date the longer Jardine stayed in Melbourne with his sister.
Jardine came back. ‘A sheila called Liz Redding, eleven this morning, a motel on St. Georges Road.’
Wyatt watched Jardine carefully. Jardine’s face had grown more elastic in the past few minutes, as if his mind worked well if he had something to stimulate it. Wyatt even recognised an old expression on Jardine’s face, a mixture of alertness and absorption as he calculated the odds of a problem.
Posted January 18, 2013
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Although I had heard of this Australian author, before picking up “Port Vila Blues,” I had not read any of his previous novels. He has written over 40 books, including most conspicuously the Inspector Hal Challis series. This book, written in 1995, is the fifth in the Wyatt series, which now total seven entries, and is the first published in the US.
The protagonist, Vietnam vet Wyatt Wareen, is a thief, and the book is filled with his cohorts and colleagues of equally unlawful lifestyles, all of them with virtually no redeeming qualities, and quite unsympathetic, with a propensity for violence, racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny - - well, you get my drift. Wyatt, a man with “the habit of permanent vigilance,” is an original and interesting creation. At one point, he reflects on his past: “A year ago he’d traveled these waters alone in a stolen motorboat. Having shot a man who’d sold him out, he’d been on the run. He usually was, in those days.” At another point, he reflects further: “The old ways were gone, it seemed. Men like him - - private, professional, meticulous - - were anachronistic in a world given over to impulse and display.”
The book shifts in time, place and p.o.v. with sufficient frequency to induce, if not exactly whiplash, at least occasional momentary confusion, as it veers from one well-planned robbery to another, with rampant corruption making it impossible to separate the good guys from the bad. The book is a satisfying read, with a suspenseful denouement, and while not without its faults, it is recommended.