According to the brief the police had given Maggie, Ellen Ford had shared an apartment in Stanley Street, North Adelaide, with Sally Gretchen, who also worked in the brothel.
I drove to North Adelaide and knocked on Sally’s front door. I was about to leave empty-handed when the door opened.
‘Hello, gorgeous. What are you selling?’
She was all legs, and her parts that weren’t, were barely covered by a large white T-shirt. It was just as well Miranda wasn’t there to witness my reaction. I had to remind myself she was a potential source of information to get my mind to focus.
‘Are you Sally Gretchen?’ I managed to ask.
‘Who wants to know?’ she said, with a smile designed to melt hearts.
I handed her one of my cards. ‘My name’s Ryan Parish, I’m a private investigator working for the lawyer defending the man charged with killing Ellen.’
Her face lost its welcoming smile. ’What are you doing here?’
‘I’d like to ask you a few questions about Ellen,’ I said.
‘Is there any possibility she was in trouble before she was murdered?’
‘You’re not a policeman, are you?’
‘No, I’m a private investigator.’ I showed her my licence.
‘Oh, sorry, you already told me that, didn’t you?’
‘That’s okay.’ I slipped my licence back into my pocket. ‘Will you answer some questions for me?’
‘Why don’t you come in?’ She stepped back and held the door open for me.
I brushed past her and stepped into a dimly lit corridor. She opened a door and flicked on a light, and ushered me into a sitting room with heavy drapes drawn across the windows.
‘This is the tidiest room in the house,’ said Sally. ‘I haven’t had time to clean up since the police were here last week.’
‘Did they ask you questions about Ellen?’ I said.
‘Not really. They just wanted to look through her stuff so they could contact her parents.’
‘Was Ellen from Adelaide?’
Sally shook her head. ’She was from Hamilton, in Victoria.’ She sat on the arm of one of the chairs. ‘Why do you want to know about Ellen?’
I did my best to keep my eyes from straying to the two brown circles pushing through the fabric of her T-shirt.
‘Our client claims he’s been framed for her murder,’ I said.
‘Do you believe him?’ said Sally.
‘To be honest, I have no idea whether he’s telling the truth or not. But, if he is, someone else must have killed Ellen. My job is to find out if that’s a possibility or a pipe dream.’
‘Fair enough. What do you want to know?’
‘Was she in any sort of trouble?’
Sally crossed her arms in front of her breasts. ‘She came here to get away from the abusive bastard she’d lived with in Victoria.’
‘Do you know his name?’
‘Mick Daley. He’s lives in Hamilton.’
‘Did he ever come here and threaten her?’
‘I don’t think he knew where she was,’ said Sally, ‘but he called her a few times. She was always in tears after he called.’
‘Did she ever say why?’
‘Said it bought back memories of what he’d done to her.’
I wondered why Ellen hadn’t changed her number but it was too late to ask her now.
‘Did she have any problems at work?’
Sally slipped into the seat of the armchair and crossed her legs. ‘You mean with the other girls?’
’Nah, we all look out for each other. We have more than enough problems with the punters to be fighting between ourselves.’
I couldn’t really imagine what it must be like to be a sex worker but it obviously had its dark side. After all, her friend had been murdered on the job, if the police had it right.
‘Were you there the night Ellen was killed?’
‘Yeah. We worked in adjoining rooms.’
‘Hear anything unusual?’
‘Those rooms are soundproofed, Mr Parish. Nobody who’s paying for a good time with somebody like me wants to hear what’s going on in the room next door.’ She smiled.
‘So, you wouldn’t hear someone walking past your door, for example?’
‘They’d have to make a hell of a lot of noise.’
‘Have you ever opened one of those doors that leads out onto the balcony, Sally?’
‘I stopped doing fire drills when I left school, Mr Parish, but a couple of the girls that smoke go out onto the balcony. They’re not allowed to smoke in the building. You know, occupational health and safety and all that shit.’
‘Does anyone check those doors are locked?’
Sally shrugged. ‘I don’t know. They always look locked to me.’
On my way back to the office, I offered a silent prayer of gratitude for Miranda. Having her in my life had stopped me from giving in to temptation and doing something I knew I would live to regret.
To be continued…