The Disappearance of Anna Popov ; Chapter 1; Sydney Harbour; New Year’s Eve 2009


Sydney Harbour, New Year’s Eve 2009
The old year was dying. ‘Five, four, three, two, one …’ counted the cheering crowd as the final seconds of 2009 tumbled through the hourglass. Suddenly, the massive steel arch of the Sydney Harbour Bridge erupted, forming a dazzling tiara of sparks.


As it raced along the girders from both sides towards the centre like fire-breathing dragons, the fireworks spectacular lit up the night sky. Meeting in the middle between the main deck and the top of the arch, light and colour engaged in a breathtaking duel, heralding a turbulent year to come.
‘Happy New Year, Jack!’


shouted the stunning young woman standing next to Jack Rogan on the crowded yacht. Rebecca Armstrong reached up, threw her slender arms around his neck and kissed him passionately on the mouth. It was the first time she had kissed her famous client.
‘Wow! I thought a kiss like this was strictly the province of the writer’s imagination,’ said Jack, coming up for air. ‘Happy New Year, Becky!’
Rebecca flicked her glossy dark hair from her flushed face – as women who know they have beautiful hair often do – and took him by the hand. ‘Don’t get used to it. Tonight’s an exception. Come on. I have a surprise for you,’ she said.
‘I like surprises.’
Heads turned as Rebecca pushed through the crowd with Jack by her side. Radiating sophistication and style in her New York designer clothes, she made straight for the stern of the yacht.


As the captain navigated the pitching vessel through the tightly packed spectator fleet under the Harbour Bridge, the yacht almost collided with an ostentatious motor cruiser. Sounding like a warning, the deep, throaty foghorn of a large ocean liner tied up at Circular Quay added to the crazy cacophony welcoming the new year.


An acrid, phosphorous, eye-watering gunpowder smell of spent fireworks cartridges filled the balmy air as a smoke haze drifted past the Opera House.‘Who are all these people?’ asked Jack, waving a hand at the crowd on the deck.
‘The Sydney literary set. Don’t you recognise anyone?’ asked Rebecca, frowning.
‘I’m new to all this, remember?’
‘They all seem to know you …’
‘Am I paying for it?’ Jack asked anxiously.
‘No, Jack. Your publisher is. Relax. Look who’s over there.’ She pointed to a tall, sandy-haired man in a crumpled checked shirt leaning casually against the mast with a bottle of beer in his hand.
‘China!’ yelled Jack, walking over to his friend. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘Spinner! Your girlfriend invited me. Cheers!’ They touched glasses. ‘And a few of your other neglected mates as well.’ The sandy-haired man pointed to the bow of the crowded vessel.
‘She isn’t my …’ said Jack, lowering his voice.
‘China?’ asked Rebecca. ‘He told me his name was Will.’
‘It is,’ replied Jack, laughing. ‘China’s his nickname.’
‘China? How come?’
‘My little mate, rhymes with china plate; china. Simple – see?’
‘You Aussies are something else,’ said Rebecca, shaking her head. ‘I can see I’ve a lot to learn.’
‘Thanks Becky,’ said Jack, giving her a hug, ‘very thoughtful of you.’ Her firm, toned body sent a ripple of excitement racing up his spine.
During his whirlwind book-signing tour across the US, Jack had repeatedly complained that he missed Sydney and his Aussie friends.
The surprise New Year’s Eve party on Sydney Harbour was his publisher’s response.
‘You’ve got to watch Will, he’s quite a lad,’ warned Jack, a sparkle in his eyes.
‘Don’t listen to Spinner,’ said Will.
‘Spinner? Not another nickname!’ said Rebecca.
‘Sure is,’ replied Will. ‘He’s always spinning yarns – right?
The two men could have been mistaken for brothers, not only because of their rugged good looks, but also because of their good-natured banter suggesting a deep friendship forged by years spent together. Both were clearly outdoor types. Will’s tanned face – lined by laughter and a little too much sun – hinted at laid-back good humour, whilst Jack’s piercing green eyes and athletic physique were a magnet for women of all ages.
‘You’re a lucky bastard, mate,’ said Will.
‘How come?’
‘She’s not bad,’ said Will pointing with his glass to Rebecca. ‘Girlfriend?’
‘No, mate.’
‘Sure … Don’t tell me you haven’t …?’
‘No, seriously. My publishers told me I needed help with PR, book signings, publicity, stuff like that. You know what I’m like. So, they appointed her to look after all that crap for me. You should see her office in New York. She’s very good,’ said Jack. ‘Strictly business.’
Will wasn’t convinced. ‘I’ve heard that one before,’ he said. ‘You and women … Lucky bastard.’
‘Perhaps I am.’
‘Perhaps? Jet-setting author with yachts and champagne and classy chicks like this one to look after you? You’ve come a long way, Spinner.’
‘It all happened very fast.’
‘I can see that, but you hardly have time for your old drinking buddies anymore,’ lamented Will.
‘I haven’t got time to scratch myself.’
‘Just look around, mate. This crowd isn’t you.’
As a freelance journalist, Jack Rogan depended on his eclectic network of contacts and friends for leads and inspiration. It was Will who had given Jack the lead to a great story two years before – the trial of a Nazi war criminal that exposed a secret hoard of Nazi gold in the vaults of Swiss banks.
When Jack published Dental Gold and Other Horrors it was an international success. The Swiss, embarrassed by the outcries about ‘abandoned’ bank accounts of thousands of Holocaust victims, finally agreed to open their ledgers. This was seen by many as the first serious step towards compensation. Overnight, Jack had become a celebrated Time magazine front page hero, and his book a sensation.
‘Come on, Will, it’s not that bad,’ retorted Jack, handing his friend a glass of champagne. ‘Here, drink up!’
The famous Sydney New Year’s Eve fireworks were reaching their climax with a multi-coloured waterfall of sparks cascading from the deck of the bridge into the ink-blue waters of the harbour below.
‘So – what next, mate?’ asked Will, draining his glass.
‘I’m taking a couple weeks off. First break in two years.’
‘Then why don’t you come with me?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I’m taking some time off too … Going bush, out west …’
‘Fossicking for bric-a-brac and old furniture?’
‘Exactly. And I still have the old van.’
‘I don’t believe it! Just like the good old days, eh?’
‘Some things never change, mate. Do you reckon they might have some more beer around here? I’m sick of this foreign crap,’ said Will.
Jack pointed an accusing finger at his friend. ‘This is Bollinger, you peasant,’ he said. ‘The best.’
‘I don’t give a stuff. It’s crap.’
‘I’ll see what I can do. When are you leaving?’
‘As soon as I sober up.’
‘I tell you what. You clear it with Becky, and I’m in.’
‘Well, well! I never thought I’d see the day. Jack Rogan actually in awe of a woman. Asking for permission?’ said Will, shaking his head.
‘You don’t know these Yankee broads, mate. Tough as old boot leather. And besides,’ continued Jack lowering his voice, ‘they hold the purse strings.’
‘You go and find me a beer, Spinner, and leave her to me.’

‘Good luck.’ Poor bastard, thought Jack. She’ll eat him alive!

PS Don’t forget to visit us again next Friday for your next instalment of THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ANNA POPOV. Or better still, may I invite you sign up for our blogs, Letters from the Attic, and you’ll be notified when the next one is due. That way, you will not miss out.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *