Extracts from Book #1
<Scene: Jeff has just heard the verdict in the trial of his wife’s killer. He has been invited for a drink in the judge’s chambers at the end of a very long week.>
‘So you don’t consider yourself educated?’ Judge Rose Milne asked in surprise.
‘Yes, of course I do,’ the celebrity smiled. ‘But being willing to learn and being given the opportunity to become educated don’t always go hand in hand. I got myself educated despite my situation. I’ve become one of you, but I’m determined to keep a foot in both camps.’
The skilled negotiator looked from one of his feet to the other, spreading them further apart to illustrate his point, before scraping his right foot along the floor towards his left as he spoke. He felt all eyes burning into his head, as it was bowed towards the floor. Looking up again, directly into their worldly but over-privileged faces, he carried on.
‘If I don’t, the “haves” will drift off in their self-indulgent ship of plenty and leave the “have nots” behind for good. Ignorance is the biggest problem, not a lack of intelligence. People in both camps are intelligent, but they don’t necessarily know they are, and that’s ignorance. García, as you rightly pointed out, Rose, had no idea about the counselling services available from DCF and The Fellowship that could’ve helped him. Instead, he shot my wife. That’s ignorance too, and his biggest handicap was not his fault. The fact that we hadn’t got our message out to him makes it partially my fault, and that eats me up inside. It’s all our faults for not keeping the two camps close enough together. Those of us who know this should do something about it, rather than hanging their hats on “G” words, because by the time we get to guilty, there’s already a victim.’
The judge and both barristers looked crestfallen, which was entirely Jeff’s intention. In his eyes, true justice had not been served today, even though tomorrow’s newspapers would praise the system wholeheartedly. It was high time to leave the legal fraternity among its expensive office furnishings and return to a place where he wasn’t obliged to constantly defend his own sensibilities and woo these east-side snobs with his magic words, like some up-market freak show.
‘But hey!’ the wise peacemaker closed. ‘I’m just an ungrateful bastard who should shut up and let you get on with your weekends. Who knows? On another day, the result might have been different. Those who needed a guilty verdict got lucky today.’
‘Amen to that!’ Gerry chanted, toasting his friend with an empty beer glass.
Jeff sighed. ‘And perversely, García may be a whole lot happier in prison, because the pressure’ll finally be off. He won’t have to struggle every day and won’t always be made to feel inadequate by his wife, his boss and the rest of us, who can’t help but look down on people like him. Having lost his freedom in the physical world, he’s somehow freer spiritually, emotionally. Ironic, isn’t it?’
‘That’s a very interesting way of looking at things,’ Rose Milne replied, as one of her minions refilled her gin and tonic. ‘There certainly are plenty of documented cases where offenders use the prison system as a way of escaping the responsibilities of life.’
‘Absolutely,’ the son of one such offender agreed. ‘That’s exactly what I mean. If anything, the “G” word gave him everything he was looking for. A way to hand his list of seemingly impossible challenges to someone else and say, “OK, I give up. You tell me how I should do this.” And you did.’
Winton, Greenshaw and Blake, the three successful private school boys, stared vacantly at each other in tacit acknowledgement of a superior mind. Graham held out his hand to the celebrity, who shook it reluctantly, knowing the reason for the gesture.
‘You’ve taught me a lot, sir,’ the barrister clarified, turning to his legal colleagues. ‘We had dinner the night before last, for the team to get some background for our closing arguments, and I have to admit to my eyes being opened considerably. I used the term “everyman philosophy”, I believe, Jeff, didn’t I?’
‘Yep. I remember that,’ the intelligent man gave a wry smile.
‘It’s very apt, though I say so myself,’ Graham went on, drawing in his learned colleagues, ‘because we all spend our days with our heads buried in the text books, talking about interpretation of the law and legal precedents… all very theoretical and frightfully intelligent… when you say something like, “OK, I give up. Tell me how I should do it,” and everything suddenly makes perfect sense.’
Tired of talking about the case, Jeff smiled through gritted teeth, glancing over to his daughter to see if she was ready to leave. He would have taken Winton’s comments as a compliment, if they hadn’t come across as so patronising.
<Scene: Jeff and his daughter, Kierney, have arrived home after the trial. Kierney has gone to bed, leaving her father alone again, for the first time in a week.>
That night, safely back in their Melbourne apartment, the widower lay on his bed in the dark and resumed his own life sentence. Running through his mind were all those years during which Lynn had helped him break out of the obsessive “now or never” anxieties which had gripped him in his teens, as a result of the betrayal and abandonment he had suffered as a child. How long had it taken before he started to believe in the new mantra of “There’s always tomorrow” which had been bestowed upon him by his beautiful best friend?
Yet there wasn’t always tomorrow, was there? García had seen to that. Jeff had enjoyed a nice, comfortable twenty-year sabbatical from his old fears, but now the boy with the death-wish was back. For the sake of his children, he knew he must rise above the despair somehow, or at least make a damned good show of doing so. Ryan and Kierney deserved to think positive thoughts about the future, even if he had no interest in it.
Unable to sleep, the loving father quietly walked into the office to switch on his computer and then into the kitchen to make some coffee. One of the e-mails Jeff had missed while away in Sydney was a summary of the various tribute records that were steadily being released by other prominent artists, all keen to acknowledge the influence Lynn had had on their careers. Like the memorial service, the list contained virtually every chart-topping musician, including some from Africa and even a couple from China. Once again, the grieving husband felt humbled by the love the world had for him and his dream girl.
In addition to these instant hits, the Melbourne Academy students had written to him to announce their intention to make a film tribute to their favourite School Governor, and Qantas had sought permission to use video footage of Lynn and the family, for a tribute to be shown for a month on all in-flight entertainment, just before each news bulletin. The widower scoffed bitterly at his assistant’s request for approval for these projects to go ahead, and he typed a suitably restrained response to indicate that he could hardly put a stop to people expressing their grief, even though it might be seen to prolong it for everyone else. Meaning him, he insinuated.
The list of senders’ names in his e-mail inbox also resembled a catalogue of contemporary public life, and the boy from Sydney’s western suburbs still found himself affected deeply when being counted in their number. All these Very Important Persons had taken the time to write to him about the death of his wife, to express support for the trial and to find out how he was faring. He couldn’t decide whether this was a good thing or a bad thing. He was grateful for their concern but mostly wished he could simply disappear for the next six months, until the plight of his family had been relegated to the inner pages of the world’s newspapers and magazines.
The forty-three-year-old leaned back in his black leather executive chair and stared at the ceiling. An eerie shadow of himself moving among the furniture, elongated by the angle of the illuminated desk lamp, conjured up memories of the nights he would sleep, as a boy, behind the piles of contraband stacked up in his family’s living room on the Stones Road, unable to face the short journey down the corridor and past his mother’s bedroom door.
That was enough. What had happened to Juan Antonio García’s mother? Why hadn’t she arrived off the boat in Sydney with her husband and sons? Why did he even care? Jeff shook himself out of the obsessive train of thought. The man had killed his wife, and this evening he had received a life sentence to prove it. The widower knew he must learn to accept the guilty verdict as justice. Somehow.
So with what did society expect justice to furnish the partner of a murder victim? The Queen had succeeded in removing one more killer from the streets. Big deal! There were plenty of far more dangerous criminals still roaming free, and with a much greater likelihood of striking again. The Sydney Mafia remained alive and well, for example, Jeff had no doubt.
What would justice have meant to him, if he had been able to choose its form? This was a tough one. Definitely not financial compensation; a concept that never ceased to intrigue the intellectual when reading about other cases. Was a couple of million dollars really going to ease the suffering after losing a loved one? No amount of money could bring his children’s mother back, and the Diamonds had more than enough money as it was. Their financial whizz-kid, Gerry Blake, had seen to that.
‘What do I want, angel?’ the widower posed to Lynn’s spirit. ‘Are you there?’
He inhaled sharply. Before he had even finished his second question, the tingling sensation in his chest made him jump.
‘Hey,’ he said. ‘So you are there. Christ, it’s good to feel you. I’ve missed you. He’s going down. Did you see? I guess you know that already.’
Again Jeff’s left pectoral muscle twitched, making him cry. It was the end of one of the longest weeks of his life, and certainly one of the most difficult. Kierney mustn’t hear him crying, he thought. Not again. She needed her sleep.
‘Come with me onto the balcony, Lynn, please,’ the bereft husband asked. ‘I want to talk to you. Our little girl’s sleeping. She’s so beautiful, angel. So, so beautiful. Just like you.’
Grabbing his cigarettes and lighter off the coffee table, where he had left them with his keys, Jeff slid the glass door open and took a seat at the table overlooking the lights of the northern suburbs. The traffic was still noisy, sixteen floors below, and there was virtually no breeze. Smoking his first cigarette for a few hours, he concentrated back on the subject of justice.
However, within a second or two, inspiration was upon him. Jeff was on his feet again, running through the apartment and back into the office. He rummaged around in a few desk drawers until he found a small voice recorder, checking its batteries and testing it with a few choice swearwords to relieve some tension. There were memoires to be captured for posterity. How had Rose Milne described him and his beautiful best friend in her sentencing statement? National treasures?
‘National treasures, my arse,’ he mocked the judge’s words as he reinstalled himself on the balcony. ‘Did you hear that too, baby?’
Jeff picked up what remained of his cigarette and rubbed his tattoo through his shirt. How did one document a national treasure? How would he do justice to Lynn’s story? To their story?
‘D’you know what I want, angel?’ he asked into the chilly air. ‘I want a long, lingering kiss that makes my insides burst into flames. I want the soft skin of your naked body wrapped around me, intent on speeding things up while you’re urging me to slow down.’
The stinging was gone from his chest now, but it had been replaced by a dull but pleasant ache. This peculiar physical reaction was most likely only generated by his own mind, the lonely soul recognised, but it was helping nonetheless. The little red light on the Dictaphone flashed regularly to remind him it was waiting for more.
‘I want our kids to have a mother and I want a friend to share my crazy ideas with,’ he continued, in tears once more. ‘Is that too much to ask? I don’t want a man to go to prison for the rest of his life. How does that help the kids? What sort of justice is that? I want our daughter to continue on the journey you were taking her on, towards the lady she oh-so-nearly is, and I want our son to be able to swap tales of Olympic glory with someone who really cares.’
‘I want this endless torrent of words to pour into your detoxicating smile. I want a reason to look at my watch ten times every hour when I’m away from home, to see how soon I can get away. Jesus Christ! I want to stop describing my self-pity and get on with doing all those constructive things we were right in the middle of, angel. I want my level-headed wife to help me resist the temptation to ring our dark-haired gipsy girl every night, when she starts her law degree at Sydney Uni, to make sure she’s safe and happy, and that she still misses her papá.’
With his head in his hands, Jeff wept away the stresses of the last few days. He was convinced he was being heard on some level, although the beating of his heart was overpowering any other sensation just at this moment. He carried on, sniffing back the tears and lighting another cigarette.
‘I want my patient and compassionate wife to remind me I’m being unreasonable and hypocritical when I criticise our son for not coming home for Christmas, just because he wants to chase girls. I long to perform again on stage with our family, and see you smiling with the joy I know it gave you. The same joy it gave me. And Jesus, Lynn… I long to have more of those long discussions over dinner with Jet and Kierney about life lessons in humility. That’s fucking justice, don’t you think? We had those things, angel. That’s what he took from us. That’s what a guilty verdict should buy us.’
And those were the things the Diamonds would never receive from the Australian justice system. This type of compensation wasn’t listed in the bound volumes of laws and legal practices he had seen in Judge Milne’s chambers. Angrily, he switched off the voice recorder and let it drop roughly onto the glass table top.
‘Mañana, angel,’ he cast into the night air. ‘Tomorrow I’ll start afresh. I’ll write our life story, baby, and therein you’ll find justice. En nuestra vida singular.’