Truth: A Novelby Peter Temple
Inspector Stephen Villani, head of homicide in Melbourne, Australia, has a full agenda: a murdered woman in a penthouse apartment, three men butchered in a sadistic rampage, a tattoofaced drug dealer corrupting his rebellious daughter, a crumbling marriage. As these seemingly unrelated events begin to unfold, Villani finds himself immersed in an unfamiliar
Inspector Stephen Villani, head of homicide in Melbourne, Australia, has a full agenda: a murdered woman in a penthouse apartment, three men butchered in a sadistic rampage, a tattoofaced drug dealer corrupting his rebellious daughter, a crumbling marriage. As these seemingly unrelated events begin to unfold, Villani finds himself immersed in an unfamiliar world of political scandal and ethical ambiguity. He must navigate the inept bureaucracy that is the police department, all the while maintaining a solid front and trying to keep the press, his family, and his own past from breaking him completely. With each twist and every turn of this taut crime novel, Villani is forced to question whom he can trust.
While The Broken Shore captured the harshness and beauty of regional Australia, Truth captures the grim reality of the city and the people who struggle to hold on to any certainty that they can find. Tense and unrelenting, this unforgettable novel confronts the complexity of human relationships and the difficulty of escaping the past.
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By Peter Temple
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2009 Peter Temple
All rights reserved.
On the Westgate Bridge, behind them a flat in Altona, a dead woman, a girl really, dirty hair, dyed red, pale roots, she was stabbed too many times to count, stomach, chest, back, face. The child, male, two or three years old, his head was kicked. Blood everywhere. On the nylon carpet, it lay in pools, a chain of tacky black ponds.
Villani looked at the city towers, wobbling, unstable in the sulphurous haze. He shouldn't have come. There was no need. "This airconditioner's fucked," he said. "Second one this week."
"Never go over here without thinking," said Birkerts.
"My grandad. On it."
One spring morning in 1970, the bridge's half-built steel frame stood in the air, it crawled with men, unmarried men, men with wives, men with wives and children, men with children they did not know, men with nothing but the job and the hard, hard hangover and then Span 10–11 failed.
One hundred and twelve metres of newly raised steel and concrete, two thousand tonnes.
Men and machines, tools, lunchboxes, toilets, whole sheds — even, someone said, a small black dog, barking — all fell down the sky. In moments, thirty-five men were dead or dying, bodies broken, sunk in the foul grey crusted sludge of the Yarra's bank. Diesel fuel lay everywhere. A fire broke out and, slowly, a filthy plume rose to mark the scene.
"Dead?" said Villani.
"No, taking a shit, rode the dunny all the way down."
"Certainly passed on that shit-riding talent," said Villani, thinking about Singleton, who couldn't keep his hands off the job, either, couldn't stay in the office. It was not something to admire in the head of Homicide.
On the down ramp, Birkerts's phone rang, it was on speaker.
Finucane's deep voice:
"Boss. Boss, Altona, we're at the husband's brother's place in Maidstone. He's here, the hubby, in the garage. Hosepipe. Well, not a hosepipe, black plastic thing, y'know, like a pool hose?"
"Excellent work," said Birkerts. "Could've been in Alice Springs by now. Tennant Creek."
Finucane coughed. "So, yeah, maybe the scientists can come on here, boss. Plus the truck."
"Sort that out, Fin. Might be pizza, though."
"I'll tell the wife hold the T-bones."
Birkerts ended the call.
"Closed this Altona thing in an hour," he said. "That's pretty neat for the clearance."
Villani heard Singo:
Fuck the clearance rate. Worry about doing the job properly.
Joe Cashin had thought he was doing the job properly and it took the jaws to open the car embedded in the fallen house. Diab was dead, Cashin was breathing but no hope, too much blood lost, too much broken and ruptured.
Singleton only left the hospital to sit in his car, the old Falcon. He aged, grey stubble sprouted, his silken hair went greasy. After the surgery, when they told him Joe had some small chance and allowed him into the room, he took Joe's slack hand, held it, kissed its knuckles. Then he stood, smoothed Joe's hair, bent to kiss Joe's forehead.
Finucane was there, he was the witness, and he told Villani. They did not know that Singleton was capable of such emotion.
The next time Cashin came out of hospital, the second time in three years, he was pale as a barked tree. Singo was dead by then, a second stroke, and Villani was acting boss of Homicide.
"The clearance rate," Villani said. "A disappointment to me to hear you use the term."
Gavan Kiely, deputy head of Homicide, two months in the job.
"We have a dead woman in the Prosilio building, that's in Docklands," he said. "Paul Dove's asked for assistance."
"Out of his depth. I'm off to Auckland later but I can go."
"No," said Villani. "I bear this cross."
He went down the passage into the bedroom, a bed big enough for four sleepers, mattress naked, pillows bare. Forensic had finished there. He picked up a pillow with his fingertips, sniffed it.
Faintest smell of perfume. Deeper sniff. The other pillow. Different perfume, slightly stronger smell.
He walked through the empty dressing room into the bathroom, saw the glass bath and beside it a bronze arm rising from the floor, its hand offering a cake of soap.
She was on the plastic bag in a yoga posture of rest — legs parted, palms up, scarlet toenails, long legs, sparse pubic hair, small breasts. His view was blocked by the shoulder of a kneeling forensic tech. Villani stepped sideways and saw her face, recoiled. For a terrible heartjumping instant, he thought it was Lizzie, the resemblance was strong.
He turned to the wall of glass, breathed out, his heart settled. The drab grey bay lay before him and, between the Heads, a pinhead, a container ship. Gradually it would show its ponderous shape, a huge lolling flat-topped steel slug bleeding rust and oil and putrid waste.
"Panic button," said Dove. He was wearing a navy suit, a white shirt and a dark tie, a neurosurgeon on his hospital rounds.
Villani looked: rubber, dimpled like a golf ball, set in the wall between the shower and the head of the bath.
"Nice shower," said Dove.
A stainless-steel disc hung above a perforated square of metal. On a glass shelf, a dozen or more soap bars were displayed as if for sale.
The forensic woman said, "Broken neck. Bath empty but she's damp."
She was new on the job, Canadian, a mannish young woman, no make-up, tanned, crew cut.
"How do you break your neck in the bath?" said Villani.
"It's hard to do it yourself. Takes a lot to break a neck."
She didn't get his tone. "Absolutely. Takes force."
"What else?" said Villani.
"Nothing I can see now."
"The time? Inspired guess."
"Less than twenty-four or I have to go back to school."
"I'm sure they'll be pleased to see you. Taken the water temperature into account?"
Villani pointed. The small digital touchscreen at the door was set at 48 degrees Celsius.
"Didn't see that," she said. "I would have. In due course."
Little smile. "Okay, Lance," she said. "Zip it."
Lance was a gaunt man, spade beard. He tried to zip the bag, it stuck below the woman's breasts. He moved the slider back and forth, got it free, encased her in the plastic.
Not ungently, they lifted the bag onto the trolley.
When they were gone, Dove and Weber came to him.
"Who owns this?" said Villani.
"They're finding out," said Dove. "Apparently it's complicated."
"The management. Waiting for us downstairs."
"You want me to do it?" said Villani.
Dove touched a cheekbone, unhappy. "That would be helpful, boss."
"You want to do it, Web?" said Villani, rubbing it in to Dove.
Weber was mid-thirties, looked twenty, an unmarried evangelical Christian. He came with plenty of country experience: mothers who drowned babies, sons who axed their mothers, access fathers who wasted the kids. But Old Testament murders in the rural welfare sumps didn't prepare you for dead women in apartments with private lifts, glass baths, French soaps and three bottles of Moët in the fridge.
"No, boss," he said.
They walked on the plastic strip, passed through the apartment's small pale marble hall, through the front door into a corridor. They waited for the lift.
"What's her name?" Villani said.
"They don't know," said Dove. "Know nothing about her. There's no ID."
"Aren't any. Six apartments on this floor, all empty."
The lift came, they fell thirty floors. On the sixth, at a desk, three dark suits, two men and a woman, waited. The plump fiftyish man came forward, pushing back limp hair.
"Alex Manton, building manager," he said.
Dove said, "This is Inspector Villani, head of Homicide."
Manton offered his hand. It felt dry, chalky.
"Let's talk in the meeting space, Inspector," Manton said.
The room had a painting on the inner wall, vaguely marine, five metres by three at least, bluegrey smears, possibly applied with a mop. They sat at a long table with legs of chromed pipe.
"Who owns the apartment?" said Villani.
"A company called Shollonel Pty. Ltd., registered in Lebanon," said Manton. "As far as we know, it's not occupied."
"You don't know?"
"Well, it's not a given to know. People buy apartments to live in, investment, future use. They might not live in them at all, live in them for short or long periods. We ask people to register when they're in residence. But you can't force them."
"How was she found?" said Villani.
"Sylvia?" said Manton. "Our head concierge, Sylvia Allegro."
The woman, dolly face. "The apartment's front door wasn't fully closed," she said. "The lock didn't engage. That triggers a buzzer in the apartment. If it isn't closed in two minutes, there's a security alert and they ring the apartment. If that doesn't work, they go up."
"So there in four, five minutes?" said Villani.
Sylvia looked at Manton, who was looking at the other man, fortyish, head like a glans.
"Obviously not quite," said the man.
"You are?" said Villani.
"David Condy, head of security for the apartments and the hotel." He was English.
"What's not quite mean?"
"I'm told the whole electronic system failed its first big test last night. The casino opening. Orion. Four hundred guests."
"The open door. The system tells you when?"
"It should do. But what with ..."
"Panic buttons up there."
"In all the apartments."
Condy ran a finger in his collar. "No evidence of that."
"You don't know?"
"It's difficult to say. With the failure, we have no record."
"That's not difficult," said Villani. "It's impossible."
Manton held up a pudgy hand. "To cut to the whatever, Inspector, a major IT malfunction. Coinciding with this matter, so we look a little silly."
Villani looked at the woman. "The bed's stripped. How would you get rid of sheets and stuff?"
"Get rid of?"
The woman flicked at Manton. "Well, the garbage chute, I suppose," she said.
"Can you tell where garbage has come from?"
"Explain this building to me, Mr. Manton. Just an outline."
Manton's right hand consulted his hair. "From the top, four floors of penthouses. Then six floors, four apartments each. Beneath them, it's fourteen floors of apartments, six to a floor. Then it's the three recreation floors, pools, gyms, spas and so on. Then twelve more floors of apartments, eight to a floor. Then the casino's four floors, the hotel's ten floors, two floors of catering, housekeeping. And these reception floors, that's concierge, admin and security. The casino has its own security but its systems mesh with the building's."
"Or don't." Villani pointed down.
"Under us, the business floors, retail, and hospitality, ground-floor plaza. Five basement levels for parking and utilities."
In Villani's line of sight, the door opened. A man came in, a woman followed, even height, suits, white shirts.
"Crashing in," said the man, loud. "Introductions, please, Alex."
Manton stood. "Inspector Villani, this is Guy Ulyatt of Marscay Corporation."
Ulyatt was fat and pink, cornsilk hair, tuber nose. "Pleasure, Inspector," he said. He didn't offer a hand, sat down. The woman sat beside him.
Villani said to Manton, "This person's got something to tell us?"
"Sorry, sorry," said Ulyatt. "I'm head of corporate affairs for Marscay."
"You have something to tell us?" said Villani.
"Making sure you're getting maximum co-operation. No reflection on Alex, of course."
"Mr. Manton is helping us," said Villani. "If you don't have a contribution, thank you and goodbye."
"I beg your pardon?" said Ulyatt. "I represent the building's owners."
Silence in the big room. Villani looked at Dove. He wanted him to learn something from this. Dove held his eyes but there was no telling what he was learning.
"We. Own. The. Building," said Ulyatt, four distinct words.
"What's that got to do with me?" said Villani.
"We'd like to work with you. Minimise the impact on Prosilio and its people."
"Homicide, Mr. Elliot," said Villani. "We're from Homicide."
"It's Ulyatt." He spelled it.
"Yes," said Villani. "You might try talking to some other branch of the force. Impact Minimisation Division. I'm sure there's one, I'd be the last to know."
Ulyatt smiled, a genial fish, a grouper. "Why don't we settle down and sort this out? Julie?"
The woman smiled. She had shoe-black hair, she'd been under the knife, knew the needle, the dermabrasion, detailed down to her tyres like a saleyard Mercedes.
"Julie Sorenson, our key media person," said Ulyatt.
"Hi," she said, vanilla teeth, eyes like a dead deer. "It's Stephen, isn't it?"
"Hi and goodbye," said Villani. "Same to you, Mr. Elliot. Lovely to meet you but we're pushed here. A deceased person."
Ulyatt lost the fish look. "It's Ulyatt. I'm trying to be helpful, Inspector, and I'm being met by hostility. Why is that?"
"This is what we need, Mr. Manton," said Villani. "Ready?"
"Sylvia?" said Manton.
She had her pen ready.
"All CCTV tapes from 3 p.m. yesterday, all lifts, parking," said Villani. "Also duty rosters, plus every single recorded coming and going, cars, people, deliveries, tradies, whatever."
Ulyatt whistled. "Tall order," he said. "We'll need a lot more time."
"Got that down?" said Villani to Sylvia Allegro.
"Also the CVs and rosters of all staff with access to the thirty-sixth floor or who could allow anyone access. And all the owners of apartments on that floor and everyone from other floors with access. Plus the guest list for the casino function."
"We don't have that," said Ulyatt. "That's Orion's business."
"The casino function was in your building," said Villani. "I suggest you ask them. If they won't co-operate, let Detective Dove here know."
Ulyatt was shaking his head.
"We'll show the victim on television tonight, ask for information," said Villani.
"I can't see the necessity at this stage," said Ulyatt.
Villani delayed looking at him, met the eyes of Dove, Weber, Manton, Allegro, not Condy, he was looking away. Then he fixed Ulyatt. "All these rich people paying for full-on security, the panic buttons, the cameras," he said. "A woman murdered in your building, that's a negative?"
"It's a woman found dead," said Ulyatt. "It's not clear to me that she was murdered. And I can't see why you would go on television until you've examined the information you want. Which we will provide as speedily as we can, I can assure you."
"I don't need to be told how to conduct an investigation," said Villani. "And I don't want to be told."
"I'm trying to help. I can go further up the food chain," said Ulyatt.
"Talk to people in government."
Awake at 4:30 a.m., Villani was feeling the length of the day now, his best behind him. "You'll talk to people in government," he said.
Ulyatt's lips drew back. "As a last resort, of course."
"So resort to it, mate," said Villani, pilot flame of resentment igniting the burner. "You're dealing with the bottom feeders, there's nowhere to go but up."
"I certainly will be putting our view," said Ulyatt, a long sour look. He rose, the woman rose, too. He turned on his black shoes, the woman turned, they both wore thin black shoes, they both had slack arses, one fat, one thin, the surgery hadn't extended to lifting her arse. They left, Ulyatt taking out his mobile.
"No garbage to leave the premises, Mr. Manton," said Villani. "I've always wanted to give someone that instruction."
"It's gone," said Manton. "It goes before 7 a.m., every day except Sunday."
"Right. So. How do you get up there?"
"Private lifts," said Manton. "From the basements and the ground floor. Card-activated, access only to your floor."
"And who's got cards?"
Manton turned to Condy. "David?"
"I'd have to check," said Condy.
Villani said, "You don't know?"
"There's a procedure for issuing cards. I'll check."
Villani moved his shoulders. "Getting into the apartment?" he said. "How's that work?"
"Same card, plus a PIN and optional fingerprint and iris scanning," said Condy. "The print and iris are in temporary abeyance."
"Ah, being fine-tuned."
"For the moment, no."
"So it's just the card?"
"Same card you don't know how many people have."
Villani turned to Dove.
"I'm off," he said. "If we don't get the fullest co-operation here, I'll be on television saying that this building is a management disaster and a dangerous place to live and residents should be alarmed."
Excerpted from Truth by Peter Temple. Copyright © 2009 Peter Temple. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Peter Temple is the author of eight crime novels, five of which have won the Ned Kelly Award for Crime Fiction. He has worked as a journalist and editor for newspapers and magazines in several countries. He lives in Victoria, Australia.
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