A Truckload of Monkeys
Chapter 1 of Trust Your Enemies
SENATOR FRANK MCKURN’S EYES roved over Alison McGuire’s body as if it were a Playboy centerfold in 3-D.
“I have a proposition for you, Alison.”
“I can’t imagine how any proposition from you, Senator,” Alison replied, her sapphire eyes cold and hard, “could possibly interest me.” McKurn grinned, his thick, stubby fingers snapping the corner of the only item on his desk, a fat manila envelope.
“Oh, I do believe I’ll be able to change your mind.”
Alison was startled by McKurn’s tone of absolute certainty; she tucked a curl of her jet-black hair back into place to cover the slight trembling of her hand.
In her fourteen years in Parliament House, Alison had dealt with McKurn many times—but carefully avoided being alone with him. Until now.
McKurn had insisted on this meeting and she couldn’t find a way to refuse.
A lanky, imperious six foot five, Senator Frank McKurn towered over every other Senator and Member of the House. In his mid-seventies, he wore his age well. But thanks to his crooked nose, bushy, unkempt eyebrows, leathery skin, and the pinkish cast to the whites of his eyes, even wearing an impeccably tailored suit and a $200 tie he looked like a laborer, talked like one, and was built, people whispered, like a brick shithouse: solid, tough, smelly, and slimy.
“It’s really very simple,” McKurn said with a smile—a smile that did nothing to improve the look of his face. “When Kydd stands down as Prime Minister, everyone expects Anthony Royn to step into his shoes—but I intend to make sure Cracken knocks Royn out of the ring.”
“And I, Senator, will do everything I can to make sure your little weasel loses.”
McKurn’s eyes danced with merriment, as if Alison’s response had been an especially funny joke. He grinned wryly; a crooked grin that sent cold, tingling fingers of fear shooting up and down Alison’s spine.
“I think not, Alison,” McKurn said, his grin broadening, his fingers idly tapping the envelope. “I think not.”
McKurn picked up the envelope, leant back in his chair, pulled several sheets of paper half out, gazing at each one with obvious satisfaction for a long moment. His eyes flicked to Alison as if he was gauging her reaction . . . or making some kind of comparison. Alison couldn’t tell. But she could feel his eyes lingering for brief moments on her full lips, on the shape of her breasts, and following the outline of her body as it curved into her waist and then flared to her hips.
Alison found her gaze glued to the back of papers, frantic to know what was on the other side.
“You know, Alison,” McKurn said with a broad smile that made Alison’s stomach quake, “I’ve admired you from the moment I first saw you.”
“Do you expect me to take that as a compliment, Senator?”
“And I’ve always thought you had a great body,” McKurn continued, as if Alison hadn’t spoken. “Until recently, I didn’t know how stunning it really is.”
Alison’s long fingers stiffened, her fingertips turning white as stone, gripping the edge of the desk for support. She struggled to speak, but felt as though the muscles of her throat and neck were no longer connected to the rest of her body. “Wh-what do you mean?”
“Very simple.” McKurn tossed a single sheet from the envelope onto the desk in front of Alison.
Not a document but a full-color printout. Of her. Naked.
A scream welled up from deep inside her, but she found she could hardly breathe. She was looking at her own face, consumed with ecstasy, framed by her black hair spilling in all directions over a downy pillow. Her pale skin, which the sun reddened but never tanned, was flushed, her deep blue eyes glowed, her nipples were taut, a man’s hand on one full breast. A hand she recognized.
Her face turned to ice as she glared at McKurn, half-rising from the chair as words struggled with each other to spill out. After a moment, her mouth opened in the beginning of a yell, but instead she growled: “You—you bastard.”
“Sit down. And shut up.” McKurn’s face was hard, his lips tight. He leant forward, his eyes narrowed into pinpoints. He was breathing heavily; Alison flinched as the faint but sour taste of his breath floated towards her. Against her will, she felt herself transfixed as she sank back into the chair, avoiding his eyes by focusing on the broken lines of the bulbous, crooked nose jutting from his craggy face.
Alison shuddered. Long ago, McKurn’s nose was broken in a street brawl and hadn’t been set properly afterwards. When people remarked on it McKurn would comment, with a malicious laugh, “You shoulda seen the other guy.”
The “other guy” had died in hospital.
“No one talks to me like that.” McKurn didn’t raised his voice, but he spat his words through narrowed lips. “No one, you understand?”
Alison clamped her mouth tightly shut. I won’t give him the satisfaction of a reply, she thought.
McKurn shrugged faintly and threw another picture on the table, then another.
“They leave nothing to the imagination, do they?”
She held her lips tight, but couldn’t prevent her eyes from widening as each picture showed a different part of her naked body.
“I must apologize for the quality,” McKurn said matter-of-factly. “They were printed off a video.”
“A video. Complete, I might add, with sound effects.”
Alison’s eyes flew wildly around the room. Was she really in Parliament House? Was she listening to the president of the Senate—in his own office? To the most powerful politician in Australia after the prime minister? For a moment, she felt as though she were looking down on herself from somewhere near the ceiling, observing but coldly ignoring the undisguised terror and disgust surging through her body. And she could hear a voice, an ageless voice, responding to her questions: Yes, Alison. And you’re seeing how he became so powerful.
Holy Mother of God, I’m having hallucinations. As that thought came, the strange vision disappeared.
McKurn tossed the last one on the desk. Alison saw a grainy blow-up of herself passionately kissing Derek Olsson.
“Convinced yet?” McKurn asked, now watching her with satisfaction and undisguised lust.
Alison became aware of how she was hunched down in the chair like a frightened rabbit. She began to straighten up—but recalled a lesson from Machiavelli. Keep your enemies continually off guard: Make sure they always underestimate you.
So she didn’t move. Let him think I’m beaten, she decided, and just making futile protests.
“Convinced,” she said slowly, straining with the effort to effect a normal tone of voice, “of precisely what?”
“Alison,” McKurn said with a sigh, “I’ve always thought your intelligence matched, if not exceeded, your beauty. Don’t disappoint me now.”
“Why should I give a damn whether I disappoint you or not?” Alison replied, her teeth clenched.
McKurn shook his head like a teacher whose favorite student had just let him down. His fingers tapped loudly on the pictures strewn across his desk as he watched Alison, waiting.
Alison tried to move her gaze away from the pictures, to look anywhere else, even at McKurn. But she felt as though she no longer had any control over all the little muscles around her eyes.
“Just think,” said McKurn. “I can make you famous. All I have to do is post this video on the internet, and you’ll be a worldwide sensation. The latest sex bomb, the newest femme fatale. The world’s paparazzi will follow your every move. There’ll be pictures of you everywhere—and double-page spreads of the juiciest ones in the sleazier tabloids.”
Leering at her, McKurn picked up the phone. “One phone call, Alison. That’s all it will take.”
Alison’s skin crawled at the thought of people everywhere drooling at the most private parts of her body—at the most private parts of her self. Just walking down the street . . . I’d feel violated again . . . and again . . . knowing that every man would have seen me. I’d have to move to the middle of the Sahara. Or join a nunnery. I’ll never be able to show myself in Parliament House again.
And her mother. Just knowing that her only daughter’s naked body was cavorting in pornographic Technicolor for anyone and everyone to see would give Mum a heart attack.
“NO!” Alison said angrily, glaring at McKurn. “You can’t.”
“Really?” McKurn laughed. Not a laugh that invited her to join him. “Why on earth not?”
Somewhere in the background she heard that strange yet familiar voice: Take note, Alison. This is how he operates. This is a lesson in power you’ll never get from Royn—or even Kydd.
Though her heart seemed to be hammering in her ears, and her stomach churned with rising panic, she forced herself to speak.
“So?” she said, still unable to look up. “I had a romantic weekend with Derek Olsson. So what? Who gives a damn?”
“You didn’t go to bed with just anybody, Alison. You had a dirty weekend with Derek Olsson, who’s now in jail and about to be convicted of a brutal drug murder.”
“Derek is no murderer.” He just can’t be.
“Really?” McKurn chuckled, a thick eyebrow rising in a question mark. “You must be the only person in the whole country who thinks that.”
“I know,” Alison said under her breath, her eyes dropping to focus on the edge of the desk.
McKurn shrugged, and waved a picture of Olsson’s face under her eyes. “And he’s obviously up to his eyeballs in the rackets.”
“That’s completely ridiculous.”
“Get real, Alison. Whether he’s a racketeer or not doesn’t matter. It doesn’t even matter if he’s innocent of the murder he’s charged with. This is politics, Alison. What has truth, or right and wrong, got to do with it? Absolutely nothing. Most people will believe whatever the media tells them to believe. As far as the press is concerned, the famous Derek Olsson, the business sensation they once drooled over, is nothing but a gangster and a hoodlum.”
When Alison said nothing, McKurn added in a quiet, hissing voice, “And you, Alison, will be nothing but a gangster’s moll.”
He’s turned the tables on me, she realized.
Three months ago when her boss, Anthony Royn, asked her to “Get the goods on McKurn,” she’d leapt at the assignment. Now he’s “got the goods” on me instead.
She lifted her head stiffly against the strain of the locked muscles of her neck, forcing herself to look McKurn straight in the eye. But the room was spinning. The vision that had driven her since she was sixteen flashed into her mind: Alison McGuire striding through the corridors of power, dispensing justice and righting wrongs—a crusading Joan of Arc. As McKurn’s face came into focus, her vision seemed to shatter in front of her eyes, like a fragile crystal being smashed into a thousand pieces.
“No!” she cried, involuntarily.
McKurn’s face morphed into the image of the Devil Incarnate Father Ryan painted in one Sunday morning sermon when she was a mere six years old. An image which gave her nightmares for weeks afterward.
With an effort, she forced herself to look deep into the pinkish pinpoints that were McKurn’s eyes . . . and decided that Father Ryan had never experienced and knew nothing of the depth of evil he’d been trying to portray.
“So this is how a slimeball like you,” she hissed, “gets people to do your bidding.”
“Wake up, Alison,” McKurn’s voice boomed across the room. He stood halfway out of his chair, leaning across his desk, his face looming over her. “From now on, when I tell you to jump through hoops, you ask ‘how many?’”
Alison tensed her muscles against McKurn’s onslaught—but felt herself cringing back in her chair. I should walk out of here, she thought to herself. But her shaking legs refused to move.
“That’s better,” McKurn said as he lowered himself back into his chair, his eyes glinting with satisfaction.
“I see,” Alison sighed thoughtfully, as if to herself. Straightening her body, she forced herself to look directly into McKurn’s eyes. “So,” she shrugged, “you can run me out of politics. What good does that do you?”
McKurn seemed amused. “Really, Alison. If that’s all I achieved. . . . What do they call you in the Press Gallery? Oh yes, The Power Behind the Throne. Knocking you out would kick away Royn’s main prop. He’d be easy game.”
Alison shook her head. “I’m not indispensable. Royn’s still Kydd’s favorite. You can’t get around it.”
“You’re not thinking clearly. As former ‘Drug Czar,’ Anthony Royn has built his political career around a take-no-hostages anti-drug program.” McKurn picked up the picture of her and Olsson kissing passionately and waved it under her nose. “But it turns out that all along his chief political adviser, the much-vaunted Alison McGuire, was really a gangster’s deceitful moll who gave Olsson the inside dope on every move the great ‘Anti-Drug Crusader’ was about to make.” McKurn chuckled. “Royn will be seen as the witless dupe he really is, whose every move was orchestrated by the gangster’s strumpet. Who’s going to believe Royn has the balls to occupy the highest office in the land then? He’ll be laughed out of politics. Not even Kydd would stand up for him.”
“You make it sound very plausible.” Alison spoke with a coolness she did not feel. “But Royn could easily surprise you.”
“I don’t want any surprises,” McKurn said. “That’s why you’re going to help me make Cracken, not Royn, the next prime minister.”
“What? You mean. . . . You want me to be your spy in Royn’s office? Is that what you’re proposing? You must be out of your mind, Senator.”
“Am I?” McKurn laughed, fingering the pictures.
“So, let me get this clear,” she said slowly. “You want me to give up everything I’ve worked for, betray my principles, deceive everyone who trusts me and pimp on them just so you can put that little weasel Paul Cracken into power?”
“It seems we understand each other.”
“And what am I supposed to get out of this?”
“Why, Alison, you’ll be on the winning team of course.”
“That’s hardly something to look forward to—if it’s your team.”
“And, of course, I won’t post that video.”
“You think that’s enough incentive for me to do what you want me to do?”
McKurn grinned, his bushy eyebrows peaking into two inverted Vs. Like horns, Alison thought.
“It’s your choice, Alison. But do you really want everyone in the world to watch you and your boyfriend fucking like rabbits?”
“He’s not my boyfriend.”
“I suppose not—since he took up with that pesky Karla Preston who writes for his newspapers.” McKurn shrugged. “More grist for the mill: Olsson’s just a heartless womanizer who dips into the company store, and Alison McGuire, so-called ‘power behind the throne,’ was mere putty in his hands.”
Oh, Derek, she thought, feeling tears in her eyes, how could all this be happening? But Olsson was now doubly out of reach: he was in jail, though she didn’t believe for a moment that he was a murderer. And she hadn’t seen him since—since that weekend.
She shook her head. I can’t think about that right now. Dabbing the corner of her eyes with a fingertip, she took a deep breath and looked as steadily as she could at McKurn.
“I’ve got a better idea,” Alison said heatedly. “Why don’t you just go ahead and post the damn video. If you’re right, that will get you what you want.”
“What would be the fun in that?” McKurn exclaimed. Idly picking up a picture he murmured, “I wouldn’t get everything I want.” Picking up another he added, “Not quite everything.”
Breathing heavily, McKurn placed the pictures he was admiring in front of Alison. Gently stroking one of them with his finger he said, “Did anyone ever tell you, Alison,” McKurn asked, “that you have a great arse?”
Somewhere deep down, Alison felt that some part of herself knew and understood the real meaning of McKurn’s words—but she clamped down tight, refusing to let that awareness rise into her consciousness.
He moved his finger to the erect nipple on the other picture, covering Olsson’s hand as he did. “And your breasts, Alison. One rarely sees such perfection.”
McKurn looked up from the picture to focus on her breasts. Alison shivered as though she was being caressed by his ice-cold hands rather than his eyes.
Her throat dry, Alison had to swallow a couple of times before she could speak. “I thought young girls were more your style,” she spat, her voice tinged with contempt. “Preferably under the age of consent.”
“For beauty such as yours, Alison, I’ve made an exception.”
“Dream on.” Alison tried to push herself up, to leap across the table to physically shatter McKurn’s leering grin. But her legs were trembling; she had to thrust with her hands on the desk to find the leverage to heave herself into a standing position.
Now looking down on McKurn she felt momentarily in command. One day, she silently swore to him, we’ll meet in a dark alley and only I will come out. She heard her own voice repeating her Sensei’s words: “The purpose of the martial arts is self-defence.” Well, it would be, she thought in reply—and smiled at the image of McKurn’s arms, legs, and neck twisted in impossible angles.
“I’m glad you find this amusing,” McKurn said with surprise.
“I’d rather walk under a bus.”
“That,” said McKurn coldly, “can be arranged.”
He means it, Alison thought. I should be shocked. But she felt a strange, if hollow, sense of triumph as the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that was McKurn fell into place: Everything I’ve thought about you, McKurn, is true—but can I prove it? “You mean like the guy you put in hospital?”
“That was self-defence.”
“Oh, come on, Senator. You expect me to believe that now? That was Sydney in the nineteen-fifties. Just about every cop in town was for sale back then. And witnesses can always be intimidated, can’t they?”
“You’d better be careful what you say, and who you say it to, Alison.”
“Or what? You’ll sue me for slander? That would be fun.”
“You obviously need some time to mull over everything I’ve said. I’ll give you a week. If you haven’t accepted my offer by this time next Friday, that video goes up—and we can all say ‘Goodbye’ to Alison McGuire.”
Glaring fiercely at McKurn she shook her head. “Never.”
Gathering the shreds of her dignity around her she walked out of his office without looking back.
McKurn laughed, calling after her, “One week, remember.”
In the corridor, she slammed the door behind her. Heart racing, head spinning, she grabbed at the wall for support and leant breathlessly against it. One week, she thought between gulps of air. What can I do in one week?
It was late Friday afternoon. Parliament was already half-empty; in offices all over the country people were getting ready for their weekends—if they hadn’t taken off for the beach already.
McKurn chose this time on purpose.
The week wouldn’t start till Monday—and what could she do over the weekend?
“Are you all right, Miss? You look terrible.”
She lifted her head to see people looking at her strangely as they hurried past. A security guard was standing in front of her looking concerned—and, no doubt, checking the ID hanging around her neck at the same time.
“I’ll be fine. Thanks. It must be something I ate.”
She pushed off from the wall and walked slowly in the direction of Royn’s office. Remembering the guard’s comment she turned into the first bathroom she passed.
“You do look terrible,” she said to her image in the mirror. Somehow, the ritual of washing her face and re-applying her makeup made her feel a little better.
“Well, Alison,” she said to her reflection, “what are we going to do?” As if in answer, the thought came to her: Never lay all your cards on the table. “He’s overconfident,” she muttered. “He’s told more than he should have. He was boasting.”
He’s made a mistake . . . but how can I use it against him?
“I need some help, don’t I?” she said to the mirror. Her thoughts turned to Olsson—but she shook her head. What could he do, even if he wasn’t stuck in jail?
She sighed, stretched to her full height, and looked herself in the eye until she saw the fire and determination come back.
No, she vowed to her mother. Never, she pledged to her younger self, and to the vision that fuelled her since she was sixteen. “No, McKurn,” she swore, “I won’t do anything you want,” she said to herself. But how, the voice in her head responded, can you refuse? “There’s a way—and even if it’s the dark alley, I’ll find it.”
But her stomach chose that moment to rebel. She stumbled into the nearest cubicle where she threw up.
WHEN ALISON REACHED HER office, she went straight to the safe and pulled out her file on McKurn. But everything in those pages was etched in her memory. No facts. Sydney, she thought. He grew up in Sydney. I could visit Mum and Dad. I could visit Derek. In jail? Alison shuddered. I could talk to his partner, Ross Traynor.
“Stop kidding yourself, Alison,” she said sternly. “You could phone Ross and ask him how Derek’s doing.”
Still, there might be something I can do in Sydney. She quickly tidied up, closed the safe, folded up her laptop . . . and stopped.
“My enemy’s enemy. . . .” she muttered to herself with a glint in her eye. Of course. Randolph Kydd—McKurn’s most powerful enemy. “Yes,” she said out loud. “That’s who I should talk to.”
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She’d always looked forward to her meetings with Kydd. He treated her as if she were a favorite granddaughter; she always felt a tinge of awe, as if she were sitting at the feet of the Master. But those meetings, when they weren’t with Royn as well, were always arranged by or for him.
I should call Royn first, she thought. And shook her head. Then I’d have to tell him why. She looked at the phone. This is an emergency. He’ll understand.
She picked up the handset—and put it down again. The phone. If I could tap McKurn’s phone.
But a court order would be needed. She knew several Federal Police officers—but none of them owed her enough favors to risk his job doing something as patently illegal as that. “Pity,” she said as she dialled Kydd’s office.
“Larry, it’s Alison,” she said as she got through to Kydd’s personal assistant. “Is the Prime Minister still here?”
“Yes, but he’s about to walk out the door for the airport.”
“Oh. Any chance of a quick word before he goes? I’ve got something to ask him that really can’t wait till Monday.”
“Hang on, I’ll check.”
A moment later she jerked the handset away from her ear as Kydd’s voice boomed at the only volume setting he knew: extra loud. “Yes, my dear, what’s so urgent?”
Alison stopped her hand from leaping to her mouth.
“Well, Prime Minister.” She paused. What am I going to say? she asked herself. I can’t tell him the truth—I’m going to have to lie to the Prime Minister. “I need some advice . . . about Senator McKurn, Prime Minister.”
“Pah—McKurn.” Kydd spat his words. “Always trouble. What now?”
“I’ve been digging into his past—”
“And how’s it going?”
“Not too well. I’ve collected lots of rumors. But no facts, no evidence.”
“He’s a clever bastard—trickier than a truckload of monkeys. Covers his tracks too well, damn him.”
“Now, he . . . he’s. . . .” Alison felt herself freezing up, as if something was stopping her from uttering the words she was about to say.
“I can tell that something is bothering you,” Kydd said kindly. “But please get to the point, Alison. I’ve got a plane to catch.”
“Sorry, Prime Minister,” Alison said with a silent moan. “The problem is—” she took a deep breath, and her words tumbled out “—I’ve just discovered he’s got wind of what I’ve been doing, and I need to come up with something concrete fast to head him off. I thought you might have some idea, some suggestion, someone I could talk to. . . .”
“This is a distressing development, Alison. One I don’t like at all.”
“No, Prime Minister.” Alison made no attempt to hide the shakiness in her voice.
“Talk to Sidney Royn, Anthony’s father. Back when he was attorney-general, he started an investigation into corruption, mainly targeting the New South Wales state government—McKurn’s home territory.” Kydd’s voice turned thoughtful. “You know, I’ve never completely understood why Sid quit politics. He was at the top of his game. Maybe, just maybe—”
“Maybe McKurn had something to do with it?”
“That’s what I’m wondering.” Kydd looked at his watch. “I’d better get moving. Call Sid. If I come up with something else you’ll be the first to know. And remember, my door is always open to you, Alison.”
“Thank you, Prime Minister.”
SHE GRIPPED HER HANDS to still them and felt the calluses from years of Aikido and Karate. She chopped the edge of one hand into the palm of the other, imagining she was smashing McKurn’s neck.
Yes, I’ve got enough time before the flight, she thought, looking at the clock. I’ll call Sidney Royn on the way.
Right now, I’m going to go and break some bricks.
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