Suzy Kruhse cultivates female friends even more eccentric than herself. I suspect she finds the comparison reassuring. Billie-Jean is a prime example. Middle-aged grand-daughter of a well-known pioneering pastoral family, Billie-Jean has a torrid relationship with her long-time partner Alphonse, a dodgy businessman who could play Peter Foster off an even break. Their relationship oscillates between mutual domestic violence and passionate reconciliation, where they re-ignite the flames of ardour surrounded by an impenetrable fog of marijuana smoke. Billie-Jean and Alphonse once spent 9 days on end bonking and bonging together in their spa bath, emerging occasionally to collect takeaway pizzas from delivery boys.
Billie-Jean’s home is a ramshackle old 5 bedroom elevated house in the Darwin inner-city suburb of Stuart Park. It was hastily jerry-repaired after Cyclone Tracy in 1974, and still leaks like a sieve. In fact, as Suzy discovered quite recently, several people died in the house during Tracy. Old-time Stuart Park residents reckon it’s both jinxed and haunted. Three or four years ago, Billie-Jean and Alphonse moved interstate in pursuit of Alphonse’s latest get-rich-quick business scam. Billie-Jean left the Stuart Park house in the care of her daughter Desdemona, a lubricious twenty-something year old who inherited her mother’s taste for rough trade and copious quantities of cannabis. Suzy told Billie-Jean to give her a call if she ever decided to sell the house. It would present a formidable renovating challenge even to the team at Backyard Blitz, but Suzy recognised the potential for the sort of multiple-tenancy money-spinner rental property in which she specialises.
Earlier this year, Billie-Jean phoned out of the blue and said she wanted to sell the house and was Suzy interested. “All the agents reckon it’s worth two hundred and twenty grand, and I need that amount at least for Alphonse’s business, but an agent would take out a fortune in commission. I’ll let you have it for two twenty clear, not a penny less”. Suzy thought about it for a while, then accepted. A contract was drawn up, but Billie-Jean kept stalling on exchange and settlement dates. She also kept insisting aggressively that Suzy wasn’t allowed to go and inspect the property under any circumstances, or even let tradesmen go through it to assess the extent of necessary renovations. It would disturb Desdemona, Billie-Jean said. Suzy thought that sounded a bit strange, but let it slide.
A couple of weeks ago, with the most recent agreed settlement date imminent, Suzy insisted on an inspection of the property if the deal was to proceed. Billie-Jean grudgingly agreed, on the strict proviso that Desdemona must be present at all times. Suzy and her two sons did the inspection, along with their respective spouses (it was to be a joint family investment). Unfortunately, they weren’t able to inspect a huge area of the ground floor, which was securely locked. Desdemona said a friend was storing valuables there, and she wasn’t at liberty to allow them in. Suzy was worried. She remembered this part of the house as one that needed some serious remedial work, and she noticed large puddles of brownish water on the floor, not to mention a very bright light shining under the door of the locked room. Suzy is wordly-wise about most things, but drugs aren’t among them, and it took one of her sons to explain to her that what they had almost certainly seen was a rather large marijuana crop being cultivated under Gro-Lites. They did some checking and discovered that Billie-Jean had taken out a very recent mortgage over the property for $260,000. It’s a fair inference that she needed not only the $220,000 from selling the house to Suzy, but also another $40,000 from the crop to clear the debt.
Last week Billie-Jean arrived in Darwin unannounced and in enraged panic. The deal was off! Suzy had “tricked” her on the price, Billie-Jean claimed, and frightened Desdemona into quitting the house. Actually, the word on the street is that Desdemona cleared out of town with the sale proceeds from the crop, just one step ahead of the Hells’ Angels who control the Darwin drug market and don’t take kindly to large-scale amateur competition. Suzy could enforce the contract if she wanted, but she’s decided against it. Buying yet another house was only reflexive greed anyway. She’s rich enough already. If you listen carefully you can hear the mocking laughter of the ghosts of Cyclone Tracy.