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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33, No. 1 18 February 1970

Raid on Desolation Row

Raid on Desolation Row

Photograph of three people crossing a wire bridge

"Hello Chris."

"What are they after?"

"See you in ten minutes."

"CIB raid on a suspected firebug in Wainuiomata. Want to come?"

Twenty minutes, some confusion over film, and we were on the motorway.

It was well past the Wainui bowl—about seven miles along the narrow road between the hills toward Cape Palliser. The black Vanguard with Chris and Helen turned off the road onto a dust track dotted with coils of wire, cows and potholes, we were greeted on the riverbank opposite the house by a blue police-car (DG 1111) and a bored taxi-driver who had brought out members of the legal profession to guide the suspect.

While crossing the ramshackle suspension bridge, I couldn't help thinking of the possibility of a crazed arsonist sniping from the windows of the house which I could see through the trees on the other bank. However ii wasn't East SideWest Side—the sun sunned, the sky blue, and white butterflies butter-flied.

Photograph of a man reading and holding a cigarette

The house had been borrowed from the set of Bonnie and Clyde: a high sloping roof, low veranda, door plumb in the middle and a window on each side. A couple of waggon-wheels had ground to a halt in the dust at the front, between the house and the river. The lawyer and the clerk were sticking strictly to the script—sitting on old chairs on the veranda reading magazines.

Helen—acting as camera-woman -went inside to take some shots of the Johns in action. The lawyer confirmed the existence of a search warrant. A Bob Dylan album thundered out in the room to the left. As we sat down by the front door, a track on the record finished and for the next sixteen minutes or so Desolation Row provided a superb musical backdrop for the half-hearted search that was going on inside.

In a few minutes we got our first look at the suspect. Short, swarthy, lank black hair, about twenty-six, He asked for a cigarette. The lawyer finished reading Newsweek and announced that he was leaving. The suspect offered him a coat that was hanging on a nail on the veranda.

"I'd better not take that," the lawyer said, "it's one of theirs."

The coat slipped from the suspect's hand and fell to the ground.

We entered to watch them searching the room on the right. There were three of them, looming large in the small room. A large unmade iron bed was receiving the attention of the boss. He bore a frightening resemblance to Maigret's sidekick. Another, a blond, was rifling through an untidy suitcase on the floor. The third was looking at some posters on the wall. One was an Evening Post billboard which asked "Attempt to burn Security Headquarters?" Another—one of Chris' efforts—exhorted us all to vote for Guy Fawkes, "the only man to enter Parliament with honest intentions."

I wandered into the bedroom on the left. Windows on two sides with a large open fire-place on one wall next to which was hung a large pair of bellows. I wondered whether they'd be produced in Court. Che blazed from between two mounted deer heads. Above the stereo was a large bookcase..... Byron, History of the French devolution, Encyclopaedia of Love, Marcuse, Longfellow ...

The police had moved to the kitchen. Suspect was urging them not to forget the attic. Maigret's man shook a soap powder packet and then rocked a large bowl of dirty water from side to side but failed to find a submerged confession. Suspect explained that a large reel of wire by the oven was to be used to rewire the house. An expensive tool-kit belonged to someone else living in the house. Suspect appeared to have forgotten his name—there were so many people coming and going. The police would have to ask the owner of the tool-kit that, wouldn't they! Maigret's man smiled patiently and explained that he would have difficulty asking the owner his name if he didn't know who he was. Suspect shrugged.

We moved to the front door. Chris was outside with the butterflies. The CIB men went on searching. Maigret's man tapped the tool-kit speculatively with the tips of his fingers and lit a cigarette. He strolled into the bedroom, selected a pair of trou, a jersey and some shoes. Suspect asked if he'd get them back when the charge was laid.

"What charge? I haven't mentioned any charge."

The suspect looked uneasy. They asked him where he'd brought the shoes—they were new. He couldn't remember. Yes, he supposed he could show them where. No, he'd give them directions instead.

"Could I speak to you alone or do you want your support?" asked MM, giving us the 'bloody student' look.

"Witnesses," said Chris, loudly.

Suspect wanted witnesses.

The blond took the clothes.

Where can I get in touch with you," said MM through his grin.

"I'll be around."

"I'll find you."

They left, city suits contrasting violently with the rustic decay. They stopped by Chris' Vanguard and took the number of our car. MM waved. Suspect kicked over a rusty bell and posed for us on the veranda.