Eileen Ormsby commissioned a hit on her husband.
Ormsby, the author of The Darkest Web, contacted a range of murder-for-hire services on the dark web asking someone to kill her ex. Price negotiable.
It was a safe bet that nothing would come of it.
First, the address she gave for her husband was a vacant lot.
Second, as an investigative journalist trying to sort fact from fiction about what was really available on the dark web she believed that sites claiming to offer online hitmen were scams because there was little repeat business.
"People aren't exactly going to say, 'Oh gee Eileen, I found a great hitman the other day'," she says over lunch.
And last, the target of the hit, her much loved husband Paul Desira, was "already well and truly dead". Desira, 27, died in a 2002 skydiving accident in Fort Wales, Florida. It was a last "fun jump" before the couple returned to Australia after a year skydiving full-time.
"The two of us jumped out. After we deployed our parachutes, he was down below me falling a lot faster, and he was spinning and he hit someone else. Their parachutes wrapped up, they dropped and both were killed by the impact. I landed next to them," she says.
"It was one of those things [where] you always know that death is a possibility, and you always talk about it. I didn't stop skydiving, but I didn't have another partner for a very long time either."
Welcome to the dark world of Eileen Ormsby. Over lunch at 12-Micron in Barangaroo, Sydney, we start with cheese toasties with a difference; pressed truffles on pecorino. Everything in the restaurant is shiny and affluent. The waiters lavish us with attention – a big change for Ormsby, who admits fine dining is rare for her as a struggling author.
For nearly eight years, Ormsby has spent most of her time in the shadows, researching The Darkest Web, investigative journalism that gallops along at a cracking pace, and The Silk Road, published in 2013, about online drug markets. Along the way, she has become a commentator on the dark web, publishing a range of articles in The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, Vice and other publications.
On Sunday, she will talk about the dark web at #VIVIDIdeas.
The dark web is the online world that "exists deep beneath the one we know". It is only accessible by a special browser that protects the anonymity of both website and visitor.
"It is the internet's evil twin, and few people are willing to venture inside," writes Ormsby.
She is one of them.
"There was a saying on Silk Road, 'I came for the drugs, I stayed for the revolution'," she says, explaining how she first got interested.
An anonymous marketplace for illegal drugs on the dark web, Silk Road launched in 2011, was closed down in 2013 by the FBI, only to reopen for a year before being closed again.
"I really believed in everything about it. [Silk Road] had a really enigmatic leader. They were really intelligent people. There was robust discussion about prohibition. It was a pleasure to be in there every day, and writing about it," she says.
Silk Road's founder, Dread Pirate Roberts, had wanted to create a place where "peaceful people could buy and sell drugs free from violence."
"When I first got commissioned to write the book, the online market was still running strong. I thought well, this is actually revolutionary. Because there are drug dealers that have ratings on all their drugs, the purity [is verified], they're independently tested so at least people know what they are getting, whereas when you buy them on the street, or in a nightclub, you have no idea. "
"[I thought] this is a new frontier of drug dealing, the end of prohibition, this is what a post-prohibition world might look like."
"Silk Road had a doctor on staff, and they gave advice to drug users on how [different drugs] interacted. They wanted to keep people alive more than other drug dealers I have seen."
Because she didn't ever hide that she was a journalist, her research and real life collided in many ways.
The owner of online hitmen business Besa Mafia claimed to have ordered a hit on her. "I knew he didn't have operatives in Australia so they were pretty empty threats," she says.
Her research also took her to a Bangkok jail to interview an alleged dark web drug warlord, Roger Thomas Clark, aka the Plural of Mongoose. He is now in the United States, waiting for his case to go to trial.
She has been sent a fake ID and a driver's licence (which used her SMH byline photo next to the Game of Thrones character's name, Daenerys Targaryen) by a dark web vendor touting for business. She has gained access to files of online drug sellers and would-be online assassins, and watched scammers extort others out of millions in bitcoin. A price list, included by an online applicant for a job on Besa Mafia, promised to "cut, break bones" for $1500 and "hand kill, sharp object" someone for $7500.
Despite the hype, Ormsby says to her knowledge nobody has been killed as a direct result of a hit commissioned online. But Amy Allwine, a bubbly and devout Christian, was murdered in St Paul, Minnesota, in November 2016, after a failed attempt by her husband to find an online killer. Using the pseudonym dogdaygod, Stephen Allwine had contacted Besa Mafia looking for someone who'd make his wife's death look like "an accident".
Frustrated by delays, Allwine did the job himself, killing his wife with a drug he'd bought online. With the smell of Thanksgiving pumpkins baking in the kitchen, Amy's body was found by their young son.
"I blame Stephen Allwine more than than I blame the site, but I do think it fuelled him on," says Ormsby.
Her role as a commentator means she still checks dark web message boards daily, but she is not as involved. When we talk, the two biggest dark web drug markets are in disarray, and one has shut down mysteriously. Her cracked iPhone's screen is full of messaging apps, many encrypted.
By the time we start the entrees, including spanner crab with potato chips and a bresaola of kangaroo, it's clear that Ormsby has lived much of her life in a parallel universe from the average Australian.
As a child,she lived in two independent bookshops in Melbourne owned by her parents who
weren't very commercial, and refused to stock Mills and Boon romances because they were "crap", she says. But they gave her the gift of reading.
Today her parents are proud of her, but she suspects they would have preferred something that they could tell the great aunts about, rather than, "She talking to drug dealers and hitmen on the dark net".
A "bit of a rebel as a high school student", Ormsby left school at 13 to work in Angus and Robertson and then in a range of office jobs.
After her husband died, she studied law and ended up working for the UK's Slaughter and May, "the most conservative law firm in the history of the world".
"It was, don't get me wrong, in many ways, a great experience. It gave me two amazing years in London. But then the Global Financial Crisis hit, and all of a sudden, it hit me that I was working for the bad guys. We're supporting the banks, we're supporting the fund managers, and there are literally people becoming homeless overnight. It was horrendous."Ormsby returned to Australia, and decided to study journalism at RMIT.
On Sunday, she will discuss the history of the dark web, and where it's going. Will it survive?
"Who knows?" she responds. "The technologies that underpin the dark web are only going to get more and more robust. But the dark web in its current state, perhaps not."
She says the point and click drug markets have been infiltrated so many times by law enforcement that buyers may become too scared to return.
"What's happening now is those markets are really being used as introduction service. You'll find a vendor who you trust, and then it goes offline."
For Ormsby, the most valuable aspect of the dark web is the privacy it offers, but the flipside of that privacy is that it enables crimes to happen.
"Privacy has been taken away from us. We're giving it away. We've got this whole generation that's grown up without any privacy whatsoever and I think that's frightening. I think people really want to start taking that back. And the technologies behind the dark web enable that."
On that note, we stop for desserts that would illuminate the darkest web. They include a macaroon, nearly hi-vis yellow, and a vibrant red ice-cream cone that was designed for a special meal during Vivid where patrons will eat in the dark.
Eileen Ormsby will speak at the Vivid Ideas event New Horizons: The Darkest Web at the MCA on Sunday at 1.30pm.
Tower 1, Level 2, 100 Barangaroo Avenue, Barangaroo (enter by Shipwright Walk).
Monday, 5pm until late; Tuesday to Sunday, noon until late.