The Long Con  

An Australian detective story, The Long Con is the first in a proposed Tasmanian Private Investigation Agency trilogy.  

 

The paperback of The Long Con can be purchased from all good bookstores and online from Booktopia. The eBook can also be purchased from Amazon, KOBO, iTunes and other e-retailers.

 

 

 

Synopsis of The Long Con

State politician having an affair? Murder, perhaps a serial killer lose in Hobart? Environmental movement disquiet, a possible political assassination? Yet another trip to Hospital Emergency for Cousins. All in a day work for a Private Detective.

 

'The Long Con' introduces the reader to Frank Cousins, a corrupt ex-Queensland copper, who resigns his position as a Homicide Detective, and leaves the state pronto, just prior to being called before the 1988 Fitzgerald Enquiry into Police corruption. Being a career cop, his employment options are limited. He moves to Hobart Tasmania, a location far too cold for any Queenslander to follow, and establishes a moderately successful detective agency.

 

Cousins is a cynical, middle-aged man who has seen it all and yet, in his own way, dogmatically attempts to retain some semblance of humanity in his life. Different situations he encounters cause flash-backs to his failed marriage, and to specific incidents he rationalises in an attempt to accept both the human condition, and the present.

 

Hired for a peek-a-boo job to discover if in fact a State politician is being unfaithful to his wife, while simultaneously searching for a young woman, at first assumed to be a missing person, she is found dead. The possibility of a serial killer looms.

 

At the same time, Cousins is hired by an environmentalist group to act as a bodyguard for a 5 day period for one of their committee members. This elderly Tasmanian matriarch maintains that she has in her possession stolen Government documentation outlining a conspiracy to circumvent Australian Federal Law in relation to foreign ownership of Australian agricultural land. She maintains that the documented conspiracy is between the TAS Government, a private AUS timber company and the Chinese Government to secretly purchase 100,250 hectares of Tasmanian old-growth forest in the North-west of the State. She intends to present the documents before the World Food Organisation of the UN in NY. Her life is being threatened not to.

 

Still, all is not what it first appears to be.  It never seems to be with Cousins.

© 2017 Barry Weston.

Supported by Social Justice Communications

THE BIG RORT.

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

 

SITUATED THIRTY THREE KILOMETRES SOUTH OF HOBART, Tasmania, and three nautical miles across the deep turquoise waters of the D'Entrecasteaux Channel nestles Bruny Island.

 The island is approximately 360 square kilometres in area and is a quiet, rural setting for its 500 permanent residents. Public transportation between the island and the mainland of Tasmania is via a vehicular ferry which, during daylight hours and weather permitting, takes 20 minutes to meander across the channel between the mainland marina docking port of Kettering, and the North Bruny Island wharf at Roberts Point. It is a place where time moves not to human tempo, but with the rhythm of nature's.

 In the early morning hours of January 16, at latitude 43 degrees south, longitude 147 degrees east, gale-force winds in excess of 100 kilometres per hour created 10 to 20 metre oceanic swells. Climatic conditions drove walls of waves north from the Great Southern Ocean, until they expended their might and fury upon the first landmass encountered; the sheer, dolerite rock-face of Cape Bruny and the lighthouse atop it.

 No light, other than the 1000 watt tungsten halogen finger of the slowly revolving lighthouse penetrated the darkness. The black overcast conditions hid the waning moon, and made the horizon line indistinguishable from the black and white ocean. Stinging rain, driven horizontally by the winds added to a dismal and terrifying experience for seafarers caught out upon the open seas, but ideal for nature to clearly demonstrate  her power and awesome potential.

 

These were the horrendous conditions in which the captain of the Tong Wu found his ship floundering, approximately three nautical miles south of Cape Bruny, and 48 nautical miles from its scheduled docking port of Hobart, Tasmania.

 As per instructions, at precisely 02.47 the captain radioed the Harbour Master at Hobart Port Control his ship's position and, through static-interrupted transmission and broken English, reported one of the ship's company had been swept overboard. The captain ordered his vessel to come about, and was presently circling in an attempt to locate the lost seaman.

 This, he explained, was the reason his ship could now be expected at Macquarie Dock much later than their scheduled arrival time. He acknowledged the message received from Hobart Port Control that the prevailing weather conditions prevented the Hobart's Police Search and Rescue helicopter from assisting, but that in spite of the conditions, a police emergency launch would be dispatched, but would take up to four hours to reach them. The Tong Fu's captain replied that the emergency was serious, and requested that medical assistance be dockside upon their arrival. His message also explained to the on-duty Harbour Master the ships erratic, circular manoeuvres on the radar screen of Port Control.

During the five minutes of garbled transmission, two men clad in black, full-body thermal neoprene diving suits, gloves and webbed shoes, scrambled down the side of the Tong Fu, and into a four metre, heavy-duty inflatable ship's tender. The men knew their arrival time at the designated rendezvous point was between 04.00 and 04.30, and failure to reach shore was not an acceptable option.

 The Tong Wu's manifesto stated that it was carrying a dry cargo of Oriental furniture, domestic ornaments and assorted bric-a-brac.  However, it was also carrying a far more precious cargo for the Asian syndicate who had organised and dispatched it. Taped together and tied securely to the floor of the inflatable rubber craft, were 150 kilograms of pharmaceutically pure Burmese manufactured heroin sealed in 15 waterproof, self-inflatable black plastic containers.

The drugs destination was Whalebone Point, a sandy cove past the Cape Bruny Lighthouse, and into the mouth of Cloudy Bay. The timing and rendezvous point was crucial, as not only was this one of the few secluded beaches in the vicinity, but the intermittent flashing beacon of the Cape Bruny lighthouse, with its specific identification sign flashed seawards once every ten seconds, would guide the seamen to the meeting place with two Australian drug smugglers.

Days earlier, the man and woman arrived on Bruny Island in a hired camper-van. They posed as a married couple on holidays from the mainland.

At sea, not 200 metres from the beach line, the tender's electric motor shorted out. With no forward motion drive, the gale-force winds and wave conditions treated the tender and its cargo like a cork in a washing machine. A huge white-crested wave rose beneath it, lifted it, and overturned the craft. The seamen fell into the churning waters; also dislodged from the secured cargo was a ten kilogram bag of heroin. It was instantly swept away, and immediately lost to the surrounding black and frenzied chaos.

Miraculously, the sailors righted the craft, dragged themselves aboard, restarted the motor and made landfall within the designated timeframe.

Once ashore, they beached the tender, untied and dragged their cargo to the base of an escarpment and, as instructed, intermittently blinked a handheld torch into the black surrounding foreshore bushland, then waited for a response. A series of rapid return-blinks; 2-1-3, acknowledged their signal. Following a path made visible by the beams of strong torchlight, two figures clad in wet-weather clothing emerged from the darkness.

Moments after the groups met, a heated discussion ensued concerning the agreed upon quantity of the prepaid shipment, now light by a ten kilo package, and with a street value in excess of ten million Australian dollars.

The group's discussion was somewhat hampered by not only the roaring southerly wind, drenching rain and thundering shore break, but also by the inconvenience of neither group being able to communicate via a common language; aside from shouting, pushing, animated gesticulation and aggressive, back and forth finger pointing.

The disagreement came to an abrupt end when four rapid flashes blinked through the darkness, staccato reports of the pistol shots muted by the weather conditions.

The Korean sailors were professionally dispatched; two .45 caliber taps, each to the forehead, their bodies dragged from the beach, dumped amongst the waist-high foreshore undergrowth and hastily covered with bracken. The rubber tender was dragged up the beach and overturned above the high tide mark.

The couple then carried the remaining 14 parcels to their camper-van, and drove off to complete the last part of their mission; a rendezvous with a privately owned, four-seater Cessna waiting at Hobart Airport. The plan was for the couple and cargo to be flown across Bass Straight to a dirt airstrip on a private property outside of Bendigo, Victoria, and from there, by car to Melbourne. But, as with some of the best laid plans, it was not to be.

The couple didn't even make it across the D'Entrecasteaux Channel to the port of Kettering. They were arrested by Federal Police as they boarded the Bruny Island Ferry prior to its 7.00am departure. The Captain and crew of the Tong Wu were arrested upon docking in Hobart, as was the pilot of the Cessna at Hobart Airport.

Responding to a tip-off from the American Drug Enforcement Agency, both Australian Federal Police and Customs had tracked the Tong Fu's progress from when it left the Korean port of Incheon until it entered Australian territorial waters.

The coordinated operation, codenamed Thylacine, represented the single largest drug importation seizure ever made in Tasmania. Later, in the Hobart Court, Federal Police estimated the confiscated 140 kilo haul to have a street value in excess of 150 million dollars.

 

Over the next few days the storm slowly abated and, dragged by the currents and pushed shoreward by the winds across the mouth of Cloudy Bay, the missing ten kilogram inflatable black plastic package came to rest on the high-tide watermark of the isolated beach at Conley's Point. It was stranded only a matter of kilometres east of its intended destination, and lay beached there for two days, tangled in flotsam, seaweed and kelp until a lone surfer, Ralph James Ives, stumbled across it and tore it open.

Kismet had brought Ives and the parcel together, and with years of experience dabbling in recreational drugs, he knew precisely what he had discovered. Ives thought it better than a TattsLotto win; he believed that he was now richer than he could have possibly dreamt. And tax free.

Once home in Hobart, Ives, alerted by the news reports of the Thylacine heroin drug-bust, realised where his windfall had derived. He immediately decided on two courses of action.

Firstly, through a friend, a postgraduate chemistry student, he had a small amount of the narcotics tested. The summary result was that he had stumbled upon a ten kilogram block of pharmaceutically pure, uncut heroin. Secondly, knowing that no one else knew of his discovery, he immediately went to ground, hid his windfall, and decided to wait until news reports of the drug bust subsided.

Ralph James Ives was a 27-year-old, private-school educated petty hustler. Born and raised in a middle class Hobart home, he was a university dropout, occasional car salesman, minor drug pusher, and a man of limited intellectual rigour. As far as serious crime was concerned, Ralph James Ives was a disastrously naive amateur. And worse, an amateur way in over his head. His greed blinded him to the fact that someone had paid a lot of money for the heroin, and would want it recovered. He failed to grasp that drug lords are extremely serious men, and serious men possess long and spiteful memories, little sense of humour, and don't readily accept the excuse of financial loss in their business transactions.

 The reality is, like any other business, professional crime is all about the bottom line.

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

IT WAS 8AM, THE THIRD SATURDAY IN APRIL. I STOOD UNDER the stinging hot water of the shower like a penitent, head bowed, silently waiting for either some form of cosmic retribution, or my stomach to settle. Either would have been an improvement.

Showered, shaved and shoe-shined, I staggered down the rear stairs of my unit to my Molle Street office on legs that felt as though my knees had been attached backwards, and with the rest of my body working solely from muscle memory.

I left the front window Venetian blinds closed, and the office door locked, stumbled into the rear kitchenette and kicked the espresso machine into action. Then, through habit, I filled a glass of water, dropped a handful of Berocca tablets into it and, headache thumping, watched them slowly dissolve. By now gastric juices were crawling up my oesophagus with claws extended and all I could do was numbly watch the half a dozen orange tablets fizz and dissolve in water.

Despite long experience, I prayed the concoction would at least ease the pain of a throbbing hangover, settle my stomach and quench my thirst, because six aspirins, a couple of gargles with Listerine, four cigarettes and three espressos for breakfast certainly hadn't.  And by now, my remaining undamaged brain cell was giving some serious consideration to a frontal lobotomy. If nothing else, the orange fizzy shit should at least remove the residual taste of a damp ferret from my mouth. It had been a big Friday night. A bloody big night.

 My memory of it was, to say the least, sporadic. I know I played Black Jack in the Wrest Point Casino and can distinctly remember winning, and a voluptuous blonde called Julia. Could've been Patricia. But definitely ended in an 'e-ah'. As per usual, I'd forgotten to never to mix the grape with the grain.

 I woke this morning, broke and alone, half undressed on my own bed, and for the bloody life of me couldn't remember another thing: alcoholic blackout. Oh I knew all about that, and not from books.

 Seated at my shitty desk in my shitty office, stirring fizzy tablets with a shitty biro, I decided to wipe what was left of last night's fiasco from my damaged memory bank and move on. Status quo.

 I raised a glass of fizzing drink to dead and departed brain cells, sculled it, lit another cigarette, had one more hit of Clear Eyes, blinked the sand and grit away, then attempted to focus on the computer screen in front of me. As it was whirring into life, I hit the replay button on my red-light blinking phone: two messages, neither client inquiries, nor relevant to my immediate circumstances. No reply required. And certainly not in the mood I was in.

 Slowly the Clear Eyes kicked in, as did the text on the emails. There were four, but one got my immediate attention. It was headed: Contractual Enquiry. I opened it and kicked the text up to 18 point size. It slowly came into focus.

 It was a potential client. And an international one to boot.

 And they reckon the Yellow Pages don't work.

 It seems that a London-based Queen's Counsel, a Mr Errol Leslie Thomson DePinna, with a shit-load of initials after his name, had been retained by Mrs Emily Reagan of Somerset to engage a Tasmanian private detective to investigate the disappearance of her twin sister from Hobart.

 The email contained a number of attachments: a lengthy letter by DePinna explaining the enquiry, a photograph of Thelma Anne Livingston (nee Churchill) and a photograph of Thelma and her husband leaving for Australia three years prior. The lawyer attached numerous copies of correspondence between De Pinna's London legal firm and the Tasmanian Police Commissioner in relation to Thelma's disappearance.

 The photographs were of a short, broad, ultra-conservative woman; a pageboy hair-do straight out of the 1950s, matron-like, with a stern, suspicious face. She appeared to be one of those people the camera either didn't, or couldn't, flatter.

 DePinna's communiqué insisted that Mrs Reagan, despite numerous phone calls, Facebook jottings and emails, had not heard from her twin sister for more than four weeks. Not since early March, and this was highly unusual, as the twins were extremely close, and always corresponded on a weekly basis. As a consequence, Emily was now beside herself with worry. She insisted that something must be terribly amiss, even though the outcome of police enquires suggested Thelma left her childless marriage to Dr Ronald Livingston of her own accord.

 Despite repeated phone calls from London to both her brother-in-law and the Tasmanian Police, Mrs Reagan believed that neither had supplied her with an acceptable, nor rational explanation for her sister's sudden and inexplicable disappearance.

 To add to her frustration, Thelma's husband seemed incapable of any substantial assistance in the matter, insisting that, after 24 years of marriage, in late February his wife had simply up and deserted him.

 The reports indicated Tasmanian Police had thoroughly investigated her disappearance. Her husband, Dr Livingston, was interviewed on three separate occasions, and after a three-week investigation, police concluded it was a simple case of spousal desertion. The case was closed, and Thelma Livingston listed as one of the 200 Tasmanian persons officially reported missing annually.

 The way I read it, Thelma was jack of the marriage, had up and done a runner, and was now missing in action. End of story.

 I smoked another cigarette and thought back to what I knew about spousal desertion.

In a previous life I'd once been married, robbed, then deserted by Greedy-Greedy-Cheryl, the bitch from hell. At least we hadn't had kids, thank God. Truth was, we were both too selfish. Shit, we were too selfish to have each other. And although that's ancient history, I instinctively knew how Ronald Livingston would have felt being deserted; gutted, wounded and angry.

 To this day, whenever I think of Greedy-Cheryl, I hope the bloke she ran off with, the bastard Gold Coast real estate salesman, Kenny friggen Keenan, has developed a case of permanent penile dysfunction or at the very least, testicular cancer. The lowlife prick. Oh yeah, there are some wounds that time does not heal. They fester.

 I really didn't have a lot on the books, even less in my bank account, and Thelma Livingston's disappearance appeared to be one of those easy-peasy, money-for-jam jobs. Missing persons can sometimes be like that. I figured a few phone calls, a bit of worn shoe leather, a natter with a few people, and an in-depth report attached to my invoice and expenses should see the whole thing wrapped up in a neat bundle. End of story. On the face of it, the hard yards had already been undertaken by the Tasmanian Police. So, best case scenario, I could probably milk it for a week.

 I  emailed off my acceptance of the brief, a standard contract, hourly rates, expenses, and bank account details for my retainer. Then I rang a local sign-writing firm regarding the alterations to the agency signage out the front of the office. It would now read: The Tasmanian Private Investigation Agency (International). Proprietor – Frank Cousins.

 

 Now don't believe what you see about missing persons cases on TV. Dead-set, it's all fantasy. But in real life, they can be mind-numbingly dull, dragged out affairs, and an absolute pain in the proverbial. Especially for a one-man show such as mine. Principally because, if an individual is motivated, and doesn't want to be found, it's almost impossible to locate them.

But what you never tell clients is, if you do finally locate the target, it's usually more good luck than good management. If someone is seriously on the scarper and doesn't want to be found, they'll be ducking and diving to stay lost. And with no postal, voter-registration address, car registration, mobile phone, bank account etc., all methods of legal location become null and void. They become like spilt mercury, moving from place to place fast, without a trace. So, I decided to take Julie Andrews' advice, and start at the very beginning; precisely where the police had left off.

 I phoned Lou Barker, an old mate of mine, a three-striper in the Files Department at Police Headquarters in Hobart. I explained the situation, gave him my email address and asked if I could get a peek-a-boo at the police reports into Thelma Livingston's disappearance. Officially, it was a closed case, so my request wasn't strictly illegal, but if you go through the proper procedures, request forms, red tape and all that, chances are you end up waiting months. That's if your request doesn't get lost. And my personality doesn't do patience very well. Never has.