Saturday, 16 September 1972
The figures on the platform blurred as the train gathered speed through Central Station.
He saw women in spring dresses and men in short sleeves. Sea Eagles’ fans in maroon and white, and others in the Roosters’ tricolours heading out early to the rugby league grand final. A platform guard, a Chinaman in a white shirt, mothers and children.
Mothers and children! A girl’s face flashed by. No matter how many times he had steeled himself against this thought, these people were real.
Two boys skylarked in the open doorway of the red rattler, holding on to the poles and leaning out of the carriage as it rushed towards the tunnel. They laughed as the wind lifted their hair. Their mother yelled at them and at the last moment they ducked back inside before the tunnel closed around them.
Upright columns loomed and passed one after the other—whoosh, whoosh, whoosh—and he blinked at the assault on his eyes, forced to look away. It was an odd, nostalgic discomfort: he remembered looking through these windows as a child on his way to the city, the warm bodies of his father and mother pressed close on either side of him.
The train rattled and bucked and he tightened his grip on the two shopping bags, cradling them between his legs against the movement. He glanced again at his old wristwatch. 10.50 am.
He looked at the other passengers in the carriage. Had they noticed anything about his movements, something furtive? No, no one was watching him.
Several of the men on the other side of the carriage were reading newspapers; the woman directly opposite was clasping a handbag on her lap, avoiding eye contact, as if in a doctor’s reception, waiting for some shameful procedure; a boy and his girlfriend whispered to each other, heads together. They were all preoccupied, enclosed in invisible fields of disregard.
Save the mother, who followed her boys’ every move, ready to intervene to prevent catastrophe. She hadn’t noticed the man with the shopping bags sitting next to her, though he was surely her worst nightmare. He whose senses were so completely engaged and raw and—yes, he could say this—primitive. He registered that, despite her alertness to the obvious dangers to her children, her instincts were dulled. She saw the cliff’s edge but not the lurking predator.
In the close confines of the tunnel, the racket through the open doors and windows drowned out all other sound. As the noise peaked, the carriage lights suddenly flickered off. The ensuing blackout was accompanied by shrieks and howls as the straining mechanics and couplings, the metal-on-metal scrapings and the electrical contacts produced the sounds of a torture chamber while the decrepit red rattler barrelled through the darkness. If all the passengers screamed at once they would barely be heard above the din. He truly felt like screaming, actually, but he suppressed the urge as though holding back a sneeze.
When the lights came back on he glanced again at his watch. He told himself not to but it was irresistible. Its imperfect mechanism was like a heart beating too fast. The damn thing was gaining time, moving ahead of itself, ahead of the schedule. He sensed an acceleration of the coming events and took out a handkerchief, wiping sweat from his face. He shouldn’t do that either, but the faulty watch was making it all worse.
There was a long squeal of brakes, the noise confined and then cavernous as the train thrust out of the tunnel and into the urinous light of Town Hall Station. Green tiles and dark bodies. A muffled station announcement as people rose in the carriage around him. So did he, jerkily in the sudden deceleration.
He had a shopping bag in each hand and stumbled against the mother, who was now beseeching her sons to wait. The boys ignored her, springing off the still-moving carriage and letting the momentum carry them through the crowd and straight on to the escalator. The mother caught his eye, and he saw a panicked look before she bustled her way to the door.
He moved in her wake through the parting crowd, which opened as if in response to the mother’s distress. He used her momentum to drag himself along and on to the escalator, saving time now, gaining on his watch. The woman’s thick hips rolled in a steady rhythm as she stomped up the moving stairs.
The boys were waiting at the top and she rounded on them, grabbing the younger one by the ear and slapping the older one’s cheek. He kept walking, registering a small shock as he passed them. His own mother had never hit him. She’d had a dark mist around her, disappearing before he was the age of either of these boys.
Not now! Put that memory away . . .
He switched the bags to one hand, pulled out his ticket and passed through the barrier before rebalancing his load.
The underground concourse was full of people and he joined the flow before peeling off to the public toilet. Once inside he edged past men facing the stinking urinals and moved along the row of cubicles to the furthest empty one. He locked himself inside, sat on the toilet seat and took a deep breath. The door in front of him was scored with obscene messages and a crudely drawn cock above a phone number. He grimaced, pulled out his handkerchief, wiped his brow again and dried his hands. He held his right hand out on a horizontal plane. Steady, no shakes.
He opened one of the shopping bags, took out the old towel that covered the contents and laid it on his knees. He reached down and gently removed a heavy brown package swathed in tape. Attached to the top, and wired to batteries and detonators, was his most accurate watch. Now he set the timer, put the live bomb back in the shopping bag, and covered it up again. Then he repeated this procedure with the bomb in the second bag.
When he stood up it was too quickly. Dizziness. He sat back down, closed his eyes and took slow, deep breaths.
He visualised the timing devices. He had constructed them himself with utmost care. A perfectionist and highly skilled in this art, he had repeated the procedure of setting the timers in training. But despite all his precautions, his mind turned to Tomislav Lesic. He thought every day about Lesic, whose legs had been blown off when a bomb he was carrying exploded in a quiet street in Petersham.
Lesic had been an amateur and a fool. His own method was infallible.
He opened his eyes and checked the time. 11.08 am. He stood again, slowly this time, and flushed the toilet. He picked up the shopping bags. He felt the weight of them down into his boots.
No one took any notice of the man with two shopping bags climbing the stairs out of the station. He blinked in the sunlight, adjusting his eyes before looking up at the Town Hall clock. 11.12 . . . That can’t be right!
He set off briskly through the shoppers and sightseers. Everything had an odd intensity. Families and groups of young people on their way to the cinemas, to Chinatown, to Paddy’s Markets; heavy traffic on George Street; crowded buses throbbing beside him; impatient drivers trying to beat the lights; children teetering along the edge of the footpath.
He walked downhill towards Haymarket, focusing so intently on the journey that his vision narrowed to a tunnel. He had taken the route before and timed it. It was only a block and a half to number 668, the Adriatic Trade and Travel Centre, his first target.
He knew the proprietor, Josip Martin, would be there. The man’s real name had been Marijancevic, before he changed it. He had watched him working in the agency, had mapped his work habits.
He had set his mind to kill Martin.
His motivation was simple enough. Tito’s regime was evil. Martin was a tool of the regime—a communist who made a living from party contacts in the Belgrade bureaucracy. Martin’s job was to facilitate connections between Australia and Yugoslavia: to arrange tickets, visas, permissions and political contacts for businessmen and tourists.
For such activities they had designated Martin an enemy. In November last year a splinter group had planted a bomb outside his agency. It exploded in the middle of the night, but it failed to bring his business to a halt. Today the Brotherhood would settle the matter once and for all. They had chosen him to do it. The honour outweighed his fear.
Josip Martin was busy with a customer and didn’t pay much attention to the man who came into the premises carrying shopping bags, only to leave soon afterwards with only one. Nor did he notice that the missing bag was now concealed behind a chair at the front, next to the shelves displaying tourist brochures for the different regions of Yugoslavia.
The man walked out of the centre with a colour pamphlet. He tucked it into his coat pocket, checked his watch again. 11.14. He was behind schedule and quickened his pace towards Haymarket. It was two hundred and fifty metres to 736 George Street, his next target. His mission half-complete, he was anxious to be rid of the second shopping bag.
He reached the Adria Travel Agency and went straight inside. The Serb, Risto Jadorovski, sat at a desk, talking on the telephone. Jadorovski waved to him, indicating that he should take a seat. A young woman was behind the shop counter. She smiled at him. She was a pretty young thing. He hesitated, staring back at her. Then he put down the shopping bag, turned and walked back out through the glass door.
Jadorovski finished his call and looked up to see the man leaving. He got to his feet, surprised to see the fellow quicken his pace. The puzzled proprietor instinctively felt there was something wrong and rushed to the front of his shop, peering up the street at the retreating figure. The man had started jogging towards Chinatown.
Out of the corner of his eye, Jadorovski noticed the shopping bag leaning against the large plate-glass window facing the street. He picked it up and ran outside, calling to the man. But he did not look back.
Jadorovski was still standing on the footpath when the first bomb at the Adriatic Trade and Travel Centre exploded. He turned as the flash and roar rushed towards him. The shock wave almost knocked him off his feet. Building materials arced over George Street within a cloud of smoke and dust. Panicked drivers wove about as rubble pelted their cars, thumping the bodywork. Shards of shattered glass, from the high windows on either side of the street, rained on to the footpaths.
Those in the middle of this deadly downpour covered their heads. A woman was knocked to the ground by falling objects. Other bodies lay prone on the pavement. As cars reached the outer edge of the blast zone, some accelerated past Jadorovski towards Railway Square. Other vehicles pulled over close to where he was standing and spilled wide-eyed occupants on to the street. As the cloud began to dissipate, Jadorovski found himself staggering towards the blast site. His ears were ringing.
It was then that he realised he was still carrying the shopping bag. He stopped, frozen in the middle of the street. He was covered in a film of dust. Slowly, he put the bag on the ground and bent down to look inside. An old towel concealed the contents. He lifted it and saw a watch, wiring, a brown package.
His mouth opened in horror. He wanted to run away as fast as he could, but there were people everywhere. At last Jadorovski found his voice.
‘Get back! Get back, all of you!’ he screamed. ‘It’s a bomb!’
The effect was immediate. People ran headlong in every direction away from the locus of the panic. An explosion, a madman with a foreign accent, another bomb. Where are the police? The abandoned shopping bag, so banal in any other context, was now an object of fear and revulsion.
Jadorovski heard a shout and turned back towards the agency. His young assistant was running towards him. Without warning she plucked up the bag and carried it back into their doorway.
‘Jana, what are you doing?’ Jadorovski yelled, chasing after her.
‘We have to put this away from the people,’ she said, hurrying through the shop and out the back door. She placed the bag down on the empty footpath in the rear lane and came inside again, pale and shaken.
‘Thank God it didn’t explode.’ Jadorovski took her by the shoulders and hugged her. ‘That was very brave.’
‘We should tell the police,’ she said, her voice quavering. ‘Before anyone walks past it.’
‘The children from the ballet school upstairs,’ Jadorovski cried. ‘We must get them out. I’ll go up there. You find a policeman.’
They ran back into the chaos on the street. From different directions came the sounds of approaching sirens. The wounded on the ground at the site of the explosion were now being attended to. A group of men were carrying a bloodied body out of the building on what looked like a blown-off door.
‘There!’ Jana called, pointing to the flashing lights of a police car. She ran towards it.
Jadorovski rushed to the street entrance of the ballet school and bounded up the stairs. He arrived breathless at the top, pushed the doors open and found inside a band of tiny angels staring back at him. There were more than twenty young girls in white leotards and frilled skirts, but the wall mirrors seemed to duplicate their numbers.
The teacher had her back to him, staring out the window into George Street. There were other windows at the back of the studio. Right over the lane.
‘Hello,’ he called to the teacher. ‘I’m from the shop downstairs.’
Jadorovski lowered his voice when he reached her.
‘That was a bomb that went off up the street and there is a second one behind this building,’ he rasped in an urgent whisper. ‘We have to get the girls away from those back windows and to a safe place.’
‘My God! How do you know?’
‘There’s no time to explain. It could go off at any time.’
‘But it’s terrible out there. Where can we take them?’
‘Let’s get them into the stairs first, away from the back of the building. The police will be here soon.’
They moved the excited, chattering angels into the stairwell and sat them three by three on the steps. Jadorovski told them to wait there and ran back out on to George Street.
A police car was now parked in front of the agency. Jana was speaking to a policeman while his partner shouted into the car’s radio receiver. Other police arrived and Jadorovski showed them where the girls were sheltering.
After a radio call to Headquarters, the tiny ballerinas were swiftly evacuated over George Street. An unmarked police car pulled up next, disgorging two detectives. By now a small crowd of onlookers had gathered, having heard news of a second suspicious device.
One of the plain-clothes men positioned his car across the entrance to Parker Lane and ordered the area to be cordoned off. The elder of the detectives pulled the uniformed men aside and issued a series of instructions. Two constables climbed back into their car and set off at high speed with the siren screaming.
The old detective beckoned to Jadorovski. ‘A word with you, mate. Your name is?’
‘Yador-offski, you say? Tell me how you spell it.’
The detective, taking a note as Jadorovski spoke, scrutinised the older man suspiciously.
‘Where you from, mate?’
‘I came here from Yugoslavia many years ago. I run the travel agency here. We were targeted. A man was behaving strangely in the office. Then I found the shopping bag inside and I saw the man running away.’
‘We’ll talk to you about all of that soon enough, but it sounds like you’re the only one who’s seen inside this thing. Is that right?’
‘Yes, well, I think my assistant, Jana, might have seen it too. She’s the one who put it in the back lane. Away from the people.’
‘I’ll get to her in a minute. First, tell me exactly what you saw in the bag.’
As Jadorovski recounted his story, ambulances began arriving at the bombsite. Paramedics and police had set up a triage and the worst cases were rushed from the scene.
‘It’s just awful,’ Jadorovski told the detective. ‘We can’t let this happen again.’
The detective looked at him grimly. ‘I want you to try and think back. Did you see anything at all on the watch—a metal pointer, something like that, which might show what time it was set to explode?’
Jadorovski paused. Tried to bring the image back.
‘No,’ he said at last, putting both hands to the sides of his face. ‘I can’t remember anything like that. I was so shocked.’
The detective nodded. ‘That’s normal. Don’t worry. We’ve called the bomb squad, but who knows if they’ll get here before it blows.’
They heard a siren returning. A police car, at speed, skidded to a halt next to the unmarked vehicle.
‘Stay here,’ the detective instructed. ‘I’ll need to speak to you again.’
Two young constables threw open their doors, ran to the back of the car and opened the boot. They began hauling out heavy sacks, which they each hefted on to their shoulder before jogging into the lane. Jadorovski realised that the sacks were 30-kilogram bags of potatoes.
‘Sent ’em to Paddy’s Markets,’ the detective explained, before running over to help the others.
The policemen stacked the potato sacks around and over the shopping bag with panicky haste and ran back around the corner to safety.
‘There’s no way I’d ever do that again,’ said one, breathing hard. There was no bravado. Their faces were drawn and bloodless.
‘No, mate, no way,’ his partner agreed. ‘I was sure it was gonna blow. Nearly shat meself.’
‘Go and have a smoke, fellas,’ the older detective told them. ‘Forget the rules.’
A fire engine arrived and the police stopped it short of the entrance to Parker Lane.
The two detectives were hovering at the lane’s entrance when the bomb exploded. Smoke and flames erupted as they dived behind a car. Jadorovski, ducking behind the fire engine, heard chunks of shrapnel clanking on its roof. Windows in the nearby buildings and on the other side of George Street shattered, showering the footpath with glass.
As light flotsam rained down on him, Jadorovski heard a woman screaming. He felt winded. His ears were ringing again. There was something wet on his face. Blood? He wiped at it, looking at his hand. Mashed potato was smeared across his fingers. In spite of everything, he laughed.
When he stepped out from cover, the shopping bag and the sacks were gone, and smoke drifted over a blackened crater. Along with the chemical stench of the explosives, the homely smell of cooked potatoes lingered in the air. All around him people were moving again. Firemen unrolled a hose and sprayed water on the gaping hole in the ground. Police entered the rear doors of buildings in the lane to check on the safety of anyone inside.
It was over.
Earlier that morning Anna Rosen had woken in a strange bed in a strange room. A warm body lay against her, back to back.
The fog in her mind cleared as if whipped away by a strong southerly.
Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!
She turned to look at the man. The old rogue was smiling in his sleep.
Daylight did him no favours. It picked out the white stubble on his hawkish face, the tangled salt-and-pepper mop, the long grey hairs curling on his chest.
She sat up carefully and searched around until she found her knickers hiding under the covers at the foot of the bed.
Had they crept down there in shame? She pulled them on and moved around the room on her tiptoes, collecting her other garments from where they’d been thrown, and retreated silently from the bedroom.
The apartment had high ceilings and tall windows. The living room was full of light. It was elegant and spacious, lined with bookcases. She remembered it differently—lit by side lamps and stubby aromatic candles, two of which now sat, hollowed out and extinguished, on the low, beaten-copper table that squatted in the centre of the room on a large Afghan carpet.
Beside the candles were discoloured glasses of different sizes, along with two empty wine bottles and a depleted decanter of Armagnac. A brown resinous lump lay in a crumpled nest of tinfoil next to an engraved brass pipe. It was a tableau of debauchery.
Anna had partaken willingly, of course, caught up in the flow of his entertaining discourse. Even as she had observed his little ritual—the heating of the hashish over the candle’s flame and then crumbling its outer edges into tobacco before packing the pipe and offering it to her—she had understood the likely consequences. She had watched the reddening glow as she inhaled and felt the familiar easing of the mind, the soft stone that enhances desire.
Now she dressed quickly.
She looked up. McHugh was in the doorway, wrapping a Balinese sarong around his waist.
‘I didn’t mean to wake you,’ she said.
He rubbed his face, smoothing his pouched eyes, or attempting to. ‘Stay. I’ll make you some breakfast.’
‘I’ve got to go.’
‘No, you don’t.’
‘I do, Peter.’ Anna looked down, shook her head. ‘This is crazy. I really don’t know . . . what was I thinking?’
‘We weren’t thinking, either of us,’ he said. ‘That’s a good thing, isn’t it?’
‘Screwing the boss?’ Anna scooped up her old leather bag and slung it over her shoulder before meeting his gaze. ‘We’ve just turned the gossip into reality and, honestly, I wouldn’t blame them for looking down their noses at me.’
‘Let them think what they like, they don’t need to know.’
Anna moved in, kissed him on the cheek, and stepped back. ‘But I know. That’s the problem.’
McHugh made a plaintive expression. ‘It was nice, wasn’t it?’
‘You were great, boss.’ She gave a brittle laugh and turned on her heel. ‘I’ve really got to go.’
Anna felt a spasm of sadness as the door closed behind her, and then relief. She left the building, walked out into morning sun and headed home.
Anna lived under a witch’s hat in a turret with bay windows overlooking Glebe Point Road. It was a big room with a brass bed, an immense colonial wardrobe, overflowing bookcases and an old cedar desk with a creaking captain’s chair.
The windows were open and the noise of Saturday traffic filled the room. Anna lay on top of the duvet, restless. She watched the rice paper lantern shift in the breeze, an inverted dirigible, tethered not to the earth but to the plaster rosette in the ceiling. She was angry with herself.
Anna was not much given to regret, but now she dwelled on her poor judgement. McHugh was not only her boss, he was her mentor, having plucked her from the newsroom to join his team. Even worse, his long friendship with her father gave the night a faintly incestuous edge. Then there was the nagging sense, quite unreasonable under the circumstances, that she had betrayed the one man she really wanted to be with.
She hated that feeling most of all because he was no longer part of her life. She knew that Peter McHugh was no answer to her longing. But so what? Yes, she’d made a mistake; but in the end no one had died, just let it go . . .
Anna jumped from the bed—time for a coffee. She found Pierre in the kitchen watching the Atomic spurt steam from its release valve.
‘Ah, the kwaken wakes,’ he said. ‘I heard you come in this morning. Holding your shoes when you cwept down the hall, were you?’
There was something disarming about her friend’s mild rhotacism that made his intrusions seem more acceptable. Anna ignored him nonetheless.
‘I’d love a coffee, thanks.’
Pierre raised his eyebrows, quizzical.
‘The silence of the sphinx then,’ he said and turned his attention back to the juddering machine. ‘Lucky I made enough for two.’
Housemates in the ramshackle old place had come and gone, but Pierre Villiers had been her constant companion for three years. He had found the house and was her co-signatory on the lease. For two years he had been Anna’s deputy editor at The Tribe until she left to become a trainee at the national broadcaster. Having now succeeded her as editor, Pierre showed every sign of becoming a permanent student.
The Atomic reached maximum pressure and quivered over the gas flame, as sinister as an unexploded bomb. Pierre shoved a steel pan under the spout and released the roaring steam into the milk. He poured the frothy liquid into his coffee and passed Anna a long black.
He sat down and pushed a copy of The Tribe across the table. ‘Latest edition,’ he said.
Anna scrutinised the front page. The artwork showed the FBI Headquarters with J. Edgar’s head as a bas-relief. Emerging from multiple apertures in the building were swivelling TV cameras and men with hats and trench coats carrying Tommy guns. The headline was intriguing.
‘Yeah, I bought the piece from The Daily Cal,’ Pierre explained. ‘It’s about how the toys the Pentagon made for Vietnam are now being used against civilians back home. Orwell saw this coming. Hundweds of camewas feed images into a single control centre where a computer scans each one at thirty sequences a second and compares the feeds to images stored in its memowy circuit.’
Anna read the article, sipping her coffee while Pierre made them eggs and toast.
‘Great piece,’ she said eventually. ‘The ABC should be doing stuff like this.’
‘You should.’ Pierre nodded. ‘And get me in to do it, don’t you think?’
‘We can try, but it’s a miracle they let me in.’
‘You’re the vanguard.’
‘They think I’m an anarchist.’
Pierre gave her a stern look. ‘Come off it, Anna! An anarchist? You’re just a social democwat with a Marxist dad. On that twajectowy, your childwen will vote Libewal.’
‘Fuck you too,’ Anna muttered, flicking through to the entertainment section. ‘Hey, we should go to the movies tonight.’
She ran a finger down the page. ‘Ballad of Joe Hill at the Valhalla? The French Connection is on at the Academy. What do you think?’
‘I don’t know.’ Pierre shrugged. ‘Joe Hill gets shot by a fiwing squad and Gene Hackman busts a dwug smuggling syndicate . . . So they both have unhappy endings.’
Anna rewarded him with a laugh. ‘Let’s see Joe Hill.’
‘Sure, why not?’ But then Pierre returned to gnawing the old bone he never managed to bury. ‘Where did you get to last night?’
Anna was about to tell him to mind his own business when the phone rang. She jumped up to answer it, her face flushing when she heard Peter McHugh’s voice on the other end of the line.
‘Anna. Thank God you’re there.’
She caught her breath.
‘I’m not ringing about last night,’ he said quickly.
‘I didn’t think . . .’
‘We can talk about that another time.’
‘Okay,’ she agreed cautiously. Maybe he accepted it had been a mistake.
‘So,’ he said. ‘You haven’t heard?’
‘You need to turn the radio on right now!’
‘Pierre!’ she called out to the kitchen. ‘Quickly. Can you put the radio on? What is it, Peter?’
‘There’s been a huge explosion near the Town Hall,’ he exclaimed. ‘Dozens of people down on George Street. Someone blew up a bloody Yugoslavian travel agency.’
‘God, that’s unbelievable.’ Anna’s mind was racing. ‘Is anyone claiming responsibility?’
‘Not yet . . .’ McHugh paused. ‘But you’d have to think it’s your Croats, wouldn’t you?’
From the radio in the kitchen she heard snatches of high-tension reporting from the scene.
‘Peter, let me go listen to this,’ Anna said. ‘I’ll make some calls and get back to you.’
‘Good, do that as soon as possible. I’m going in to the office.’ McHugh hung up.
She walked back into the kitchen where, despite the volume, Pierre was leaning in close to the radio speaker. He looked up. He was well aware of what Anna had been working on over the past two months.
‘I guess the movies are off,’ he said.
In Canberra, Inspector Harry Harper was putting his golf clubs into the boot of his car when Helen hailed him from the doorway.
‘Harry? A call for you.’
Harper put his hands on the rim of the boot and dropped his head. He looked at the clubs lying there expectantly, the irons shiny and clean, the woods neatly capped with numbered leather covers.
‘It sounds urgent,’ Helen said. ‘Headquarters.’
He sighed, pushed the boot shut and went back inside.
‘Harper,’ he said emphatically into the receiver.
‘Colin Reynolds, sir.’
Reynolds was the weekend duty officer.
‘What is it, Sergeant?’
Reynolds spoke fast. ‘Big flap in Sydney. A bomb’s gone off at Town Hall, multiple casualties. Just got a telex, marked urgent, for your attention.’
‘Read it to me, please.’
‘Jesus, Saturday morning!’ Reynolds babbled. ‘George Street’d be full of women and children. I took the wife there just last . . .’
‘Sergeant,’ Harper interrupted, ‘the telex!’
Harper didn’t think twice about tugging the reins on his subordinate. He was a stickler for protocol, British military police pedigree, Northern Rhodesia, known to take no prisoners.
The telex spelled out that a large bomb had exploded inside a Yugoslavian travel agency on George Street, causing dozens of casualties. The exact number, the nature of their injuries and the question of fatalities were still to be confirmed. Ray Sullivan had sent the communication within half an hour of the explosion. Harper was grateful Sullivan was on duty in Sydney. The detective sergeant was one of the sharper knives in his drawer.
There was more. An unexploded bomb had been found in another Yugoslavian travel agency a short distance away on the other side of the street. Police had contained that device.
Sullivan’s assessment: a high degree of certainty the bombing was politically motivated.
As head of the Bureau of Criminal Intelligence, Harper was at the top of the list for notification of a suspected terrorist attack. He thanked Reynolds and hung up.
Helen was lingering in the hallway.
‘Sounds bad,’ she said.
‘It is, darling, but I don’t have time to explain,’ Harper said. He walked past her into his study, closed the door, flipped open the teledex, found the commissioner’s home number and dialled it.
‘Harper here, boss.’
‘What is it, Harry?’ asked Jack Davis. ‘I’ve got people here for lunch.’
Harper briefed him.
‘Christ, it’s the Croats again,’ Davis summed up. ‘A terror attack. There’s no real doubt, is there?’
‘State police’ll have operational control. What can we do?’
Harper paused. Time to jump in.
‘Intelligence and extra manpower, to start with. Offer them all our available resources in Sydney. On the intelligence side, I’d like to send Al Sharp straight down.’
‘Righto, Harry. I’ll ring the NSW commissioner. He’ll be grateful for the help, I’m sure. But we can’t tread on their toes. You liaise directly with CIB. I’ll make that clear.’
‘Yes, sir,’ said Harper. ‘And Sharp?’
‘Send him by all means but he’ll have to operate under their authority. I’ll make the call straight away. I want a full briefing at the end of the day.’
Harper hung up and rang Sharp.
‘Al, sorry to interrupt your weekend.’
‘Where’d you hear?’
‘It’s all over the news. I just lit the bloody barbecue.’
‘And I was about to head off for a round of golf.’
Sharp chuckled at this familiar trope. ‘That’ll never happen, Harry. You should know that by now.’
‘Why do I bother? I don’t even like golf. Did they name the targets on the news?’
‘Two Yugoslavian travel agencies. Is that right?’
‘Yes,’ Harper confirmed. ‘Sounds like your old mates are at it again.’
Sharp was Harper’s senior intelligence officer. He’d once been an ASIO agent, now he was the best analyst of Croatian extremist groups in the BCI. Harper rated him highly. His threat assessments were a thing of joy. Despite the disparity in their ranks, he tended to treat Sharp as an equal.
‘What do you want me to do, Harry?’
‘Quick as you can, put together your files on the Croats. I want you on the first plane to Sydney. You’ll be my eyes and ears on the investigation. The NSW coppers will run it, but they’re way behind us on intelligence. You’ll brief their investigators on the likely suspects. Sorry about your lunch.’
Sharp sighed. ‘I had a few mates coming to watch the grand final.’
‘I’d completely forgotten about that.’
‘I don’t even know who’s playing.’
‘Seriously? Manly and Easts, you heretic—battle of the silvertails.’
‘Right,’ said Harper. He’d stopped listening and was mulling over the timing. ‘Imagine planning a bombing on grand final day.’
‘The bloody Croats don’t give two hoots. Soccer fanatics, all of them,’ Sharp said. ‘I might make the 2 pm flight if I get a wriggle on. Anything on the bomber—anyone taking credit?’
‘I don’t get it. Bombs in the middle of the city . . . That’s a major escalation. Got to be a new group, hasn’t it?’
‘You know these mad bastards better than anyone. They’re going to need you in Sydney.’
‘Do I have to stay in that same crappy hotel on Castlereagh?’
‘Don’t complain,’ Harper said. ‘It’s a short walk to the bombsite and a few blocks away from the CIB. Go straight there. They’ll be expecting you. Call me at the office.’
The venetian blinds were all closed to the light except for one broken slat, which was twisted against the grain and allowing a single beam of sunlight to burst through the opening. It landed between a pair of legs shrouded by a sheet.
Tom Moriarty, whose legs they were, was lying on his back, watching the beam climb towards his groin.
In his fevered imagination it was the laser in Goldfinger, accompanied by a loud soundtrack.
BANG bang BANG bang BANG bang . . .
The drumbeat came from behind his bloodshot eyes, sickening and relentless. Strauss’s ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’, with the timpani section on a loop. It seemed to be generated by his pulse, which was at least a sign that he was still alive. But that fleeting thought brought no comfort.
He kept his head still on the pillow, fearful that any movement might produce more of the ghastly pain. He’d been through this many times before, so he knew from experience that this sense of being locked-in would pass. Yet nothing seemed certain in this particular phase of the torment.
How long before Brown sent over some heavies to break down the door? Would he even hear them over the infernal racket? BANG bang BANG bang BANG bang.
There was a dull gleam in his peripheral vision, but he didn’t dare turn his head to confirm the suspicion. He searched his last conscious memories as the laser beam edged towards his genitals. How had 007 avoided fiery emasculation? Painfully, but with fine mimicry and no sign of a stutter, Moriarty spoke the immortal lines:
‘Do you expect me to talk?’
‘No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die.’
Think, Tom, think . . .
Gradually the gleaming object consolidated into a memory. It took the familiar shape of a bottle and eventually he visualised a single word in his native tongue.
The fingers of his right hand twitched. With a superhuman effort, he raised his arm and swung it towards the object. When his fingertips brushed against glass, he opened his trembling hand to caress the thing. Grasping it by the neck, he brought it into his line of sight and was relieved to see an inch of viscous liquid sloshing in the bottom.
When had the black curtain come down last night? The vodka seemed to stir up fractured memories. Glimpses of the lost night forced their way through the incessant drumbeat. He was cutting a swathe through the patrons of the Press Club like a dodgem car. Elbows repelled him, drinks were spilt. Angry faces. A woman at the bar was briefly entranced; then she was hostile, mouthing at him with fierce intensity. The sudden materialisation of a man— her boyfriend? A fist rattled his cheekbone. A view from the floor of legs dancing around him, faces leering. The lurch to the door. Streetlights and car beams. An impressionistic cab journey, his face smeared against the window, drooling . . .
All of this swirled in the bottom of the bottle before Moriarty pulled it to his mouth and gulped down the contents, heedless of the fragrant burning in his throat and nostrils, until it steadied his hand and dulled the pain. Poison as antidote, a familiar thought.
He threw the empty bottle aside, wiped his moistened lips.
‘N-Na Zdorovie,’ he said. A toast to no one.
He looked down. The laser was about to scorch his balls. In a burst of energy, he swung his skinny legs out of the bed and staggered to the bathroom. In the mirror he saw a face like a painter’s palette. There was a shiner in shades of purple around his left eye; both eyes were red; his skin had a greenish pallor, darkened in places by stubble. His black hair stood up like the worn shoe brush in his old army footlocker.
Would you trust this man with the nation’s security? He splashed water on his face, pushed wet hands back through his hair and addressed the creature in the mirror: ‘Stirred but n-not sh-shaken.’
The disreputable fellow staring back did not reply, so he pulled the mirror open and rummaged in the shelves for aspirin. He threw a handful into his mouth and bent to suck water out of the tap, drinking and drinking with no thought of dignity. Gideon would never have chosen him as one of his Brave Three Hundred. But that was nothing to be concerned about. That’s not what spies do anyway.
He was wondering whether to shave when the phone rang. He ignored it, but it just started again a moment later, and this time he snatched up the receiver.
He listened without interruption as the urgent disembodied voice cut through to the functioning core of his brain. The Croats had gone rogue.
‘F-fuck me roan,’ he told the caller. ‘I’m on my way.’
He was the only one left alive; now it was his turn to die.
In September 1972, journalist Anna Rosen takes an early morning phone call from her boss at the ABC, telling her about two bombings in Sydney's busy CBD. It's the worst terrorist attack in the country's history and Anna has no doubt which group is responsible for the carnage. She has been investigating the role of alleged war criminals in the globally active Ustasha movement.
High in the Austrian Alps, Marin Katich is one of twenty would-be revolutionaries who slip stealthily over the border into Yugoslavia on a mission planned and funded in Australia. It will have devastating consequences for all involved.
Soon the arrival in Australia of Yugoslavia's prime minister will trigger the next move in a deadly international struggle.
Tony Jones, one of Australia's most admired journalists, has written a brilliantly compelling thriller, taking us from the savage mountains of Yugoslavia to Canberra's brutal yet covert power struggles in a novel that's intelligent, informed and utterly suspenseful.