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Denise Cleever Thrillers

The 5th Denise Cleever Thriller

PROLOG

It is all unfolding, like a waking dream, like fate. Everything is as it should be, as has been foretold. She tingles with anticipation. She is blessed, she is the chosen one, correctly moving through the singing slices of time in their exquisite order.

The crowds part before her, as has been prefigured. People are laughing and talking, eating and drinking—unknowing celebrants at a consummation soon to be made complete and perfect.

Her spirit leaves her body to watch her physical self walking the black line, invisible to others, that she must tread. Her loose clothing flows gracefully as she paces the foreordained steps. Her long, brown hair is lustrous in the glare of the lights the television crew has set up.

She sees herself smile as Senator Jonathan O’Neven enters, confidently striding along his own predestined path. He doesn’t look down, but surely he can see stretching ahead of him the thick black line that intersects with hers on the raised platform, at the exact point where a speaker’s desk, sprouting a forest of microphones, has been set up.

Around her people cheer and clap. Some call out his name. She joins their acclamation. It is right and proper to do so. The moment is at hand.

"My friends..." he says, throwing wide his arms. The room becomes quiet.

Relief suffuses her. She hasn’t failed the task. She is sanctified, set apart, ordained. Putting her hand through a slit cut in her clothing, she hooks her forefinger through the waiting metal loop.

She mounts the two steps to the platform. Someone moves to stop her, but she evades him. Senator O’Neven is staring at her, surprised.

She flings her free arm around his neck. "I am come to you," she says.

Her finger tightens. The ritual is complete.

 

CHAPTER ONE

The photograph had frozen Dr. Graeme Thorwell in mid-smile. He had a truly dazzling set of very white teeth, contrasting nicely with his tanned face. His hair was thick, dark, and grew to a distinct widow’s peak. His blue eyes crinkled at the corners, the line of his strong jaw caught the light, showing taut, healthy skin. He had broad shoulders, a flat stomach, and an excellent taste in casual, expensive clothes.

"He’s a beauty," I said. "How much is genuine?"

Dr. Peter Reynolds, ASIO expert in all things psychological, and as homely as Graeme Thorwell was handsome, flicked another photo across his desk. "Your cynicism does you proud, Denise," he said, grinning. "In your hand is the after. Now behold the before."

It was clearly the same man, if one disregarded the bat ears, the muddy eyes, the crooked teeth. The strong, dark hair was identical, as were the broad shoulders. But in this photograph the subject had a soft belly, a shapeless nose, and an ill-defined jaw line.

"Wow," I said. Bring me that plastic surgeon! If he can do this much for Thorwell, what could he do for me?

"Don’t fish for compliments, kiddo," Peter admonished. He passed me another photo. "This is Graeme Thorwell in transition."

The ears were pinned back, a cosmetic dentist had been paid a small fortune, and a personal trainer—possibly aided by a little judicious liposuction—was well on the way to tightening up the body and getting rid of the incipient paunch. Thorwell’s undefined nose still needed to change, and his eyes lacked blue contact lenses. And at this point of his transformation, his choice of clothing indicated no sense of style whatsoever.

Frowning at his untidy desk, Peter said, "I’ve got a detailed bio of the guy somewhere."

His desk was crowded with framed photographs of his family—wife Stephanie and four children—taken at various ages over the years. Peter himself beamed from many of the pictures like the proud father he was. Intensely competitive in all things, he’d tried to imbue his children with the same philosophy. This meant Peter was to be avoided on Mondays, when he would insist on recounting in paralyzing detail the latest weekend sporting exploits of his offspring to anyone unfortunate enough to provide an audience. It was Monday today, and I’d already endured his narrative about the achievements of Fanny at softball, Sophia at gymnastics and Pierre at tennis. Happily Baby Jake was too young to play any organized sport, although Peter confided he was convinced Jake was showing early signs of superior hand-eye coordination.

After much rustling, Peter exclaimed, "Here it is!" Handing me the manila folder, he said, "Let me give you the short version of Graeme Thorwell’s life. He was born in Chicago, the only son of middle class parents. The family was comfortably off, but even so it was helpful that Thorwell was very bright, and so had little trouble gaining scholarships for his education. He was studying medicine when his adored younger sister died of heart failure related to anorexia. She literally starved herself to death. That tragedy impelled Thorwell to go into psychiatry, specializing in the problems of adolescent girls and young women. He became an authority in the area of anorexia and bulimia. Later he branched off into treating young people rescued from cults. Within his own circle he’d gained a reputation for innovative, effective treatments."

"He was a rough diamond, ready to be polished?"

Peter grinned. "Exactly. Professionally Thorwell was very successful, but he lacked the style required to be psychiatrist to the stars. Then he met the excessively rich Fenella van Berg."

"A sexual relationship?" I asked.

"The woman’s as ugly as I am," said Peter with a sardonic smile, "but money does make you attractive, and the more money, the more beautiful you become."

Fenella van Berg’s name was familiar to me. She was a staple of the celebrity magazines, being so famous as to only require her first name as identification. She’d been in her early twenties when she’d inherited several billions from a Texas oil father, who had achieved a spectacular death on Mount Blanc whilst attempting to circumnavigate the globe in a hot-air balloon.

Fenella’s square, solid body and coarse-featured face had not dissuaded a fading movie icon from declaring his undying love for her. He’d been the first of her three unfortunate excursions into matrimony. Two she’d divorced, pre-nuptial agreements ensuring they only got millions, not billions. Her third husband, a lower echelon British pop singer fifteen years younger, had recently managed to kill himself with an overdose of cocaine and speed while cavorting with groupies in a hot tub.

"I haven’t noticed Dr. Thorwell and Fenella as a hot gossip item. Is he planning to be spouse number four?"

"Thorwell has a far greater importance to her than prospective husband material." Peter leaned over to pass me another photograph. "This is Fenella and her daughter, Rosemary, taken last year."

Fenella van Berg’s only child was the offspring of her second marriage to Australian Rafe Lloyd, a sculptor who had preferred to live an artistic life without actually having the inconvenience of producing any works of art.

It was clearly a paparazzi photograph. Mother and daughter had been caught exiting a limousine. Fenella’s face was clenched in a ferocious scowl. Her daughter, skeletally thin, had half-turned her head away.

"Neither of them appear happy," I said. "In fact, the daughter looks positively morose."

"As well she might," said Peter. "Rosemary has been diagnosed at various times as anorexic, bulimic, bipolar and schizophrenic. She’s been in and out of various clinics and treatment protocols in the States, in Europe, and here in Australia. She’s made three documented suicide attempts. Not a happy young woman."

"So this is where Graeme Thorwell comes in?"

"Exactly. It just so happens that Dr. Thorwell is the only psychiatrist who’s been able to get through to Rosemary Lloyd in any meaningful way. That was enough to win Fenella’s heartfelt gratitude."

I looked again at the before and after photos of the doctor. "Appreciation that led to Thorwell’s remarkable makeover?"

"That, and much, much more. She’s financed exclusive clinics devoted to the treatment of young women with mental or emotional problems, and she’s put Graeme Thorwell in charge." He grinned at me. "Oh, to have almost unlimited funds! Because her beloved Rosemary chooses to wander between the United States, Europe and Australia, her mother has established clinics in each location. The European one is outside Paris, in the States it’s Houston, and here in Australia, the clinic, rather sickeningly named Easehaven, is located on the Central Coast of New South Wales."

"And what continent is Rosemary on now?"

"Here in Australia, the land of her birth. Fenella van Berg’s in New York, but resting easy, because Graeme Thorwell is here to keep an eye on her daughter. In fact, although she’s not officially a patient, Rosemary’s staying at Easehaven under Thorwell’s care."

I’d just had a delightful vacation in the Caribbean, and this was my first day back at work in Canberra. It was also day one of my training for my next undercover role, and Cynthia, my ASIO control, had already given me a sketchy idea of what the assignment involved.

ASIO—Australian Security Intelligence Organization—was responsible for internal security within Australia, and worked closely with its foreign counterparts. A month ago a suicide bomber had detonated a device that had killed both herself and visiting U.S. Senator Jonathan O’Neven at a social event held by the Australia-America Friendship Alliance, a non-partisan group dedicated to strengthening ties between the two countries. The CIA had immediately become involved with the investigation.

The media had been told the young woman had been linked to Al Qaeda, although so far there was no firm information as to her identity. Neither of these statements was true.

For political reasons, it suited both the Australian and United States governments to lay the blame at the feet of the Al Qaeda terrorist organization, but unfortunately the most strenuous efforts by the intelligence community had been unable to turn up any evidence of this.

And the suicide bomber’s identity had been established. After television footage of the assassination had been compared with photographs of young women reported missing, the best match had been for nineteen-year-old Josetta Wilson, a British citizen, whose frantic parents in London had reported they were unable to locate their daughter since she’d checked herself out of Graeme Thorwell’s Easehaven clinic, where she was being treated for depression.

Subsequent DNA testing had confirmed Josetta Wilson had indeed been the assassin, although where she obtained the materials and know-how to make the bomb remained a mystery.

Josetta had left nothing behind her to explain her motivations. For reasons entirely unknown she’d decided to blow herself and Senator O’Neven into the next dimension.

"I think I should tell you," I said, "that I know about Josetta Wilson." I had to smile at his chagrin. "No, Peter, I’m not psychic. Cynthia told me."

"Blast Cynthia," he said, with a reluctant grin. "I was about to whip the Josetta rabbit out of the hat. Cynthia’s ruined the moment." He frowned at me in mock irritation. "And I suppose she’s blabbed about Anita Hutching too."

"Who’s Anita Hutching?"

Peter looked pleased. "I didn’t think the info would have filtered through to Cynthia yet. I only found out a couple of hours ago, myself. Do you remember Bea and Danny Kern?"

"Vaguely. They had something to do with the Wilton bankruptcy scandal, didn’t they?"

"That’s right. Douglas Wilton was accused of embezzling millions of dollars from his company before declaring bankruptcy. The Kerns were the company accountants, and knew where the bodies were buried. They were set to testify against Wilton when they were killed in a head-on crash. Without them, the case fell through."

"There’s a connection to Graeme Thorwell?"

"There is. Witnesses said the young woman driving the vehicle that veered over to the wrong side of the road and crashed into Bea and Danny Kerns’ car appeared to do so deliberately. It wasn’t an accident. She couldn’t be questioned because she died at the scene. Her name was Anita Hutching, and she had been a patient staying at a certain clinic."

"Easehaven Clinic, by any chance?"

"You’re not just a pretty face, Denise. Anita Hutching had been a patient of a Dr. Norah Bradley, who gave evidence at the inquest that Anita Hutching was being treated for severe depression and had attempted suicide on more than one occasion. What was not mentioned at the inquest was that Dr. Bradley worked for Graeme Thorwell at Easehaven Clinic."

"So?" I said. "The clinic’s whole raison d’etre is to treat emotionally and mentally disturbed people. It isn’t so far-fetched to imagine two of the patients could be involved in suicidal violence."

"Not on the face of it," said Peter, "unless you take into account the interesting fact that a patient at Thorwell’s Paris clinic stabbed a leading French intellectual to death, then ritually disemboweled herself."

"Killer women," I said, shaking my head. "And we’re supposed to be the gentler sex."

"Supposed to be," said Peter. "Did I tell you about Fanny at the softball match on Saturday?"

"You did," I said quickly. To change the subject before he launched on his children’s sporting feats again, I went on, "Cynthia tells me our CIA friends are fully involved."

I was using the term friends with an ironic twist. Although ASIO and the CIA, plus all the other alphabetic organizations in the various intelligence arms of our two countries, were pledged to fully cooperate with each other, in practice there was often more rivalry and point-scoring than collaboration.

Peter gave a disgusted grunt. "Unilaterally those CIA bastards put a woman agent undercover into Easehaven as a manic-depressive patient. We knew nothing about it until a week or so ago."

"If someone’s already in place, why put me undercover as well?"

"The operative reported there was a undisclosed treatment unit in the high security section of the clinic that seemed very suspicious. Other than that, the information the CIA was getting out was of poor quality. Now it’s dried up altogether."

My skin prickled. I’d been in dangerous undercover situations often enough to feel an empathetic chill. "Is the agent all right?"

"When her fictional parents called from the States to check on her progress, they were told she was under sedation because she’d threatened to hurt herself and other patients."

"Thorwell’s tumbled to the fact she’s a CIA plant?"

"Not necessarily. It isn’t morally right, but many institutions sedate individuals for reasons other than medical. People who are trouble makers, who question their treatment, disturb other patients...It’s easier to keep them quiet than to cope with the disruption. Maybe she made a fuss, as part of her act, and they tranquilized her as a matter of course. The CIA have agreed to brief you. It’s possible you’ll be asked to help extract her, if necessary."

"If I’m going undercover as a patient of Dr. Thorwell’s," I said, "you can forget about giving me anorexia nervosa as my disease du jour." I stood, arms spread. "Look at this body. I may be fit, but no one would call me sylphlike."

"True. You don’t have that interesting emaciated look about you."

"If anorexia is off, how about phobias? I do phobias well. You’ve no idea what I can be scared of, if I try."

Peter laughed. "It’s a pity, but your skills in that direction will not be required."

"No? I’m quite disappointed. I was planning pathological fear of germs. That’s always a good one, with lots of hand washing and recoiling from dirty surfaces."

"We have something a little more challenging in mind."

The amusement in his voice made me look at him suspiciously. "How challenging?"

"It’ll require quite a bit of preparation on your part."

This was par for the course. I’d had to do in-depth preparation into the fictional backgrounds of all my undercover personas. "If I’m not a patient, who am I? A business manager? An efficiency expert?"

"A person highly recommended by Fenella van Berg herself. There’s no way Dr. Thorwell will fail to welcome you with open arms. His benefactor speaks, and he obeys."

"Oh come on!" I said, grinning. "Don’t keep it a secret."

Peter made a grand gesture in my direction. "Denise Cleever, meet Dr. Constance Sommers, respected psychotherapist."

"You’re kidding me! A psychotherapist?"

"Don’t worry," he said soothingly, "I’m here to give you a crash course in everything you need to know."

"I can handle it already," I said. "I know the drill. All I have to say is: And how does that make you feel? at regular intervals. Simple, really!"