I remember worrying about the books at the front of the store.
The shop had a foldout awning, but it offered little protection when the weather turned stormy.
I always looked through those books first before I went into the Aladdin’s cave; High Street Preston Used Books and Old Stuff.
It was a very long sign.
If I wanted to, I could walk past this shop on my way to and from work, but I liked to vary my route. I sometimes saw myself as a female version of a spy from one of my books, making sure that I was not followed. The variable route also made it harder for someone to assassinate me.
You develop a vivid imagination when you read as much as I do.
Someone tried to ‘interfere’ with me on my way home from work late one night, but I fended him off with my mother’s hatpin. I heard him yelp before he ran away.
I wear the hatpin as a broach, and I’ve only had to employ it that one time.
I was proud of myself, but a few moments later, I was shaking like a leaf in a storm. I knew what was happening to me because I’d read about it in books about trench warfare — adrenaline.
I leaned up against a shop window until my legs started working again, then I walked as fast as I could. I wanted to get home, and I wanted to dissipate the adrenaline.
When I got home, I washed the hatpin and put it back on the lapel of my coat. Over the next few days, I noticed that I would feel to see if it was still there.
I asked the gentleman who owned the bookstore why he put the books out on the pavement in front of his shop. He gave several apparent answers, “Too advertise that I sell books (I would have thought that that was obvious), and to get rid of some of the ‘doubles’ and cheaper versions of books I have inside.”
“Aren’t you worried about them getting stolen or damaged?” I asked.
“Book people don’t steal books and if they do they must really need them, so why worry? Every time I buy a batch of books, there are several I don’t want, but they are a ‘job lot’ so I take them in order to get the valuable ones.”
It makes sense, I guess.
Still, I worry about the books that might get rained on.
Someone wrote them.
Someone made them.
Someone read them.
Many people have their fingerprints on them, and each person deposited a bit of magic and mystery.
The least I can do is look through them all.
You never know what you might find, even on a rainy night.
We weren’t in a hurry, but we ran for it anyway.
My friend took off first. My hesitation meant that I didn’t get there in time to board the green and gold monster. I kept running the way that young people do — all optimism and strength. Couldn’t manage it these days.
My continued momentum paid off because the lights changed, and the tram had to stop. Of course, these days, the tram would have triggered a green light and sailed right through, but back then, such things were unheard of.
These days the driver would not let you on just because the tram was stopped at the lights. Back then, there were no doors, so you could hop on whenever you liked (the conductor might get a bit annoyed, but mostly they didn’t care).
This particular tram was packed to the door line. Tram etiquette was such that people would squash up to let you get off the step, but sometimes you had to ride there until the next stop. Then someone would get off, and you could clammer on.
On this day, I was feeling cheeky.
“Freedom!” I cried as I held my bag high above my head. A couple of the people standing in the doorway smiled.
“You still have to get on, William Wallace,” one bloke said.
The sea didn’t part, and I was left to cling to the running board. I didn’t mind. I’d made it. Now to find my friend. I know he’s on this tram, but he’s too cool to call out.
When the lights changed, the tram took off, and so did the rest of the traffic. A large Ford came perilously close to scrapping me off the side of the tram.
Drivers have a built-in desire to pass trams. Of course, they get stuck at the next set of lights, but ‘getting past’ is a badge of honour.
It was a warm afternoon and my shirt flapped in the breeze, which was nice. I was strong back then, so I never considered that I might fall off. My hands could propel me anywhere.
As I said, I don’t remember where we were going, but I do remember the feeling of joy and abandon that comes with the company of friends and the exhilaration of hanging off a tram flying down Collins Street on a warm afternoon.
“Why did you have to go and show me that?” I said, and I meant it.
“I wanted you to know. You’re my best friend. You told me where your family came from. I wanted you to know where I came from,” said Henry James Occalshaw.
We, my mates and I, had always known him as Oh. As in ‘Oh My God’. I don’t remember when it started, it just always was, and he never complained — it isn’t the worse ‘handle’ in the world.
Me? I’m ‘professor’.
That started at Primary school. I’m an only child, and my parents didn’t baby-talk me. They spoke to me as an equal, so I picked up a lot of adult language before other kids did. Dad was top of his class before his dad died, and my dad had to leave school and help feed his family. My mum never made it past sixth grade, but she read everything she could get her hands on, and the local library knew her on a first-name basis. She loved words.
“I told you my family came from Tasmania after emigrating from England and before that they were Vikings. A short history of the Holmyards. You, on the other hand, are definitely not from around here,” I said.
I was trying to take it all in — sorry for the cliche, but sometimes they’re necessary.
“Everyone comes from somewhere else in Australia, except Ernie. His mob has been here for centuries, but even his mob walked here from somewhere else, it’s just that it was so long ago that he and his mob got first dibs on the place.”
“I’m not sure that Ernie’s mum and dad would see it like that,” I said, and I remembered some of the names the kids used to call that gentle brown skin boy who could play footy better than all of us combined. He got us to the State School Victorian Premiership Game. Kicked the winning goal. Played a dozen games for Essendon when he was only eighteen. Sadly, the ‘names’ got to him. He stopped playing, but I still see him around sometimes.
“Don’t look at me like that. I’m still me. I didn’t tease you for being from Tasmania,” he said.
“I’m not teasing you either, but you must admit that you come from a lot further away than Tassie.”
“So what? Is this a distance thing. Like the time you found out that your cock wasn’t as big as mine?”
I laughed. I couldn’t help myself. I didn’t want to laugh, but I’m not sure what I wanted to do in its place.
“Nothin’ wrong with my cock, horse boy,” I said, and he smiled.
It’s true that at a certain age, boys tend to compare sizes. Not overtly, but the occasional sideways glance after swimming sports. I admit to being a bit concerned until, a few years later, Joany Mac told me mine was ‘perfectly adequate’ and ‘up to scratch’. She ought to know, so I relaxed a bit. ‘It’s not the size that matters, but what you do with it that counts’ became my mantra.
“So, are you planning to go back and visit?” I said, “like Spiro did?”
“Spiro went back to Greece with his parents. This is a bit different,” he said.
“Are there Travel Agents who specialise in where you come from?”
I was thinking of the people who live up the street from us, in the blue house. They organise trips to Egypt. Pyramids, desert, Pharos, that sort of thing. It’s not their actual job, but it gives them a chance to visit and not have to live there, or at least that’s what my father said. Dad doesn’t say much, so it was strange to hear him offer an opinion.
“I think you have the wrong idea. We’re here to stay. There’s no going back. My parents made that decision and I was too young to understand what it meant. This is the life I have and I’m happy with it.”
“That’s because your best friend came from Tasmania and no one thinks twice about it?” I said.
“My parents still write to the people they knew and they send a report once a year. Just like the report that your probation officer wrote after your year.”
“You had to bring that up. You were with me when we ‘borrowed’ that car. You were just a faster runner than I was. You didn’t get caught.”
“And you didn’t dob. If you’d dropped me in it, they would have gone easier on you. As it was, it made it impossible for you to be a cop. I know you always wanted to. You know I never forgot that.”
“You had too many strikes against you. If they got you, you’d have gone to Youth Prison. I wasn’t going to let that happen. I didn’t think it would stop me from being a cop. You don’t think much at that age, do you? Even so, I would never have given you up,” I said.
“So do you see why I wanted to tell you? You are the only person outside of my family who knows. My parents trusted my judgement when I told them what I was going to do.”
“Always liked your folks. They treated me like one of theirs. And your mum still makes the best cheese sandwiches on the planet. No pun intended,” I said.
“So, what do you think?”
“I don’t know what to think,” I said.
But, it was true what he said. Pretty much everyone in Australia came from somewhere else. If they didn’t, their parents or grandparents did.
“Is that why your folks chose this country? Because it’s full of ‘everywhere else’ people?”
“No. It was just the first place on the map,” he said, and I could see his smile before he’d finished the sentence.
“Smart arse,” I said.
“I don’t know how they worked it out, but I know they are happy that they did. It seems it was a lot harder at first. They never told me much about the early years. I was just a kid, being a kid. I didn’t notice. I remember the operation on my ears. Mum said that the other kids made fun of them so they thought it best to have them done.”
“I meant to ask about that. Everyone in that video you showed me had long hair, but I did notice that some people had unusual ears. Is that a thing?”
“Yeah. Dad had his done when he began to loose his hair. Mum still has hers.”
“I have to ask. What was with the beautiful blue light at the beginning of the video?”
“Apparently, it’s a special frequency of light that calms people to the point where they can accept ideas that might disturb them. The film comes from ‘home’. It’s been passed around for centuries. Someone made a digital copy and dad got hold of it so I could show you.”
“I wouldn’t mind having a copy, but I guess that would be asking a lot?”
“Yeah. Not going to happen,” he said.
“Any chance of just having that blue bit at the start?”
“I’ll ask,” he said, and I knew he meant it. It’s that kind of friendship.
“So what the fuck am I supposed to do now? Now that I know.”
“Nothing in particular. I just wanted you to know.”
“Will you tell me if your people decide to take over the world or something?”
“What makes you think we haven’t?” He winked at me. I hate it when he does that.
“I’m serious,” I said.
“I know you are,” he said, and he put his arm around me.
“We want what every person wants when they come to this country. We want a job and a family and a chance at some kind of happiness — and the chance to feast on your soul,” he said in his best Vincent Price voice.
I punched him on the arm. He hates that, and we went out to his driveway and played some one on one basketball.
He’s better at it than I am.
His family nearly ran us over when they got back from netball.
His wife invited me to stay for dinner, but I said I needed to get back.
My family was waiting when I walked home.
My wife looked at me inquisitively when I hugged her for longer than usual. I had a kid attacked to each leg, and I dragged them into the house.
“What have you boys been up to today?” said my wife. I think I loved that woman more at that moment than I ever have.
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” I said.
She just smiled and hugged me.
She’s like that, and I’m a lucky man.
“When the pencil hits the paper, you’ll know.”
My Occupation Therapist was losing patience with me.
In retrospect, I’m amazed that it took him so long to suggest the simple act of drawing.
I’d tried basketweaving until I accidentally poked Alister in the eye with a bit of bamboo. Didn’t mean to, not really, but he does give everyone the shits.
Gardening didn’t work out too well either. Gardeners are very possessive, and old Mr Jones was sure I was using his tools. The wound on the back of my head gave me a couple of days off from ‘activities’, and Mr Jones got the padded room. My head hurt like fuck, but I still managed to give him the finger as they dragged him off.
“Stay away from my peas,” the old bastard said.
Why would I want to interfere with his peas?
“The residents don’t like blood on their produce,” was the parting comment from Derek, our OT.
No more gardening for me.
Woodworking was out of the question, “until you can show that you won’t hurt yourself or anyone else.”
I’m a good woodworker, but I wasn’t going to tell them that. I spent a couple of summer holidays working for an old-time cabinetmaker. Grumpy old bloke, but I liked him. I made a perfect dovetailed miniature drawer and put it in his grave. I got a few strange looks from the other mourners, but I know he would have liked it.
Derek was right; when the pencil hit the paper, I knew.
I started doing lightening portraits of the staff, then my fellow inmates. Not everyone liked them, which was fair enough. Caricatures are not for everyone.
I quickly found that I had a gift for drawing, not that I cared.
The important thing was that it calmed me down and took away the anxiety.
I’ll make it out of here soon. I have to believe that; otherwise, why bother?
When I make it out, I doubt that I’ll go back to teaching. They have to take me back if I want to, but I just make them uncomfortable. No one likes to be reminded of weakness.
They wouldn’t say anything, but I’d know. I wouldn’t be the brash young teacher who thought anything was possible as long as he threw enough energy at it. Instead, I’d be the loser who burst into tears and cried for four hours on the last day of school. Not sure my ego could take it.
I’ll miss the kids. But, hopefully, they don’t know what happened to me.
I’ve got a bit of money saved up. I can look for another job. Maybe I’ll make furniture or fix old bits. There’s a lot of satisfaction in bringing a piece of furniture back to life.
I’m getting ahead of myself a bit. Firstly, I have to get out of here.
My shrink won’t say what it is, but there’s something wrong with me.
I’ll do a portrait of him.
Maybe that’ll soften him up.
“If you don’t mind me asking,” is a statement that is usually followed by me thinking, ‘yes, I do mind’.
“What happened to you and why do they seem to be out to get you?”
I should have told the little shit to mind his own business, but I answered anyway.
“I’ve pissed off a few people along the way,” I said.
“Are you the only good cop in a sea of losers?”
I looked at Egg to see if he was taking the piss.
“Bloody hell no. I’m just as useless as they are. Well, maybe a bit less useless. I’m not a cliche, and neither are they. Most of the brass are bastards, but they do it with a bit of style. I seem to have lost mine — style, that is. I had no way of knowing that bloke’s gun wasn’t loaded. You point a shooter at me, and I’m assuming you mean me harm, and if I get the chance, I’ll do you before you get the chance to punch my ticket. If it had been anyone else but me, we wouldn’t be talking about it. Sure he was an ex-cop, but I didn’t know that. It was a routine call out. I was close by, I took the call even though I wasn’t next up. By rights, uniform should have taken it. The call sounded like a domestic — loud music and a bit of screaming. I knock on the door, and there he is. Blood trickling down his face. A tiny stream, nothing much, but it distracted me. I should have seen the gun, but the drop of blood was mesmerising. When I did see it, I tried to distract him with a question. ‘Any chance you could turn down the music, pal? Your neighbours are none too pleased.’ The thing was, he was an ex-cop, so he knew that I knew, and he knew what I was doing. The music had blanked out the gunshots. Holes in the walls. The bugger probably couldn’t count, so we’ll never know if he believed that he still had ammo. I remember the click, and I assumed that the round was a dud. He looked at me, then looked at the gun. I drew mine and shot the bastard. It was him or me.”
Egg nodded. The kid had probably never fired a gun in anger, but I’ll bet he’s thought about it.
“I called it in, the ambos arrived but he was dead and I knew it. Dead blokes don’t get up and shoot you in the arse and that’s the way I like it. Professional Standards turned up and took my gun and told me I was on leave until they finished their investigation. That took about a week. They gave me back my gun, sent me for counselling, and I thought that the whole dirty business was over with. Turned out that the halfwit I shot was connected to a long line of coppers and someone decided to kick up a stink. I’m sure that if I’d had a partner and he’s heard the gun click, this really would be over with.”
“Why were you there alone?”
“I was coming back from an interview. It seemed like a straightforward call.”
I took a sip of my coffee and tried not to remember looking down that barrel.
“You shoot a civilian and everyone is supportive. You shoot an ex-cop and everyone stays away from you like they might catch something. I’m pretty sure they’ll move me sideways if they think they can get away with it. I stink up the place — at least as far as the bosses are concerned. This could be the last murder I work on.”
Egg didn’t say anything. I think he was a bit shocked that I had laid it all out for him instead of telling him to get stuffed.
I’m not sure why I told him.
Nothing good could come from it.
I guess I wanted the kid to know that I’d done the right thing and that I wasn’t trigger happy.
“We’d better solve this case then. Don’t want you to go out on an asterix,” said Egg.
“Okay. If you say so,” I said with a smile.
“I’ve got an appointment to talk to Debra’s boss tomorrow,” said Egg.
“Where was he when you went the first time?”
“Had to rush out, apparently.”
“I think we might talk to this bloke together,” I said.
Debra’s boss was a walking cliche.
Slightly crumpled white shirt (for some reason, his wife had stopped ironing them), a tie someone had given him for his birthday and ink stains on his inside finger, right hand. He couldn’t get his wedding ring off if he tried, and he was sweating profusely even though the AC was blowing icy cold air.
We asked all the usual questions, and he was ‘only too happy to help’.
“Do you think he knows?” I said when we got back to the car.
“I think so. What do you think he will do?”
“I’m not sure. I don’t think he’ll run. He hasn’t got anywhere to go. Once we’ve spoken to his wife he’ll know for sure and so will his wife. She won’t run with him. Why would she? He’s stuffed. It’s only a matter of time before he cracks. We’ll give it a day or two and pull him in for more questions.”
Egg went back and talked to Debra’s friend, and she had calmed down and wanted to speak. Yes, she believed that her boss and Debra had been having an affair and that Debra was trying to end it. No, she didn’t think that Debra would tell her boss’s wife — she wasn’t that kind of person.
We sent a couple of uniforms around to Debra’s boss’s house on Saturday.
The sight of uniforms in a domestic setting tends to stir things up.
He wasn’t there.
His wife hadn’t seen him since early that morning when he went out to walk the dog.
The dog came home later that afternoon.
It didn’t take long to find the body, hanging from a tree not far from the river where we found Debra’s body.
What we had would not have convinced the CPS to prosecute, but our bosses agreed that we had the right bloke.
The case stays open, but a note at the head of the file outlines our findings and the suicide of Debra’s boss before we could interview him a second time.
Sometimes that’s all you get — a note at the beginning of a still open file.
Not a lot of closure for those who loved her.
I didn’t have to. There was no official reason to, but I did it anyway.
I knocked on the door of flat number six, and her cat talked to me through the crack when she opened the door.
“I didn’t expect to see you again,” she said.
She looked like she had been sleeping, and I imagined waking up next to her and seeing her like that — pleasantly tousled.
“I wanted you to know that we got him. sort of. Debra’s killer. He killed himself before we could charge him. But it was him. Fucking coward. Sorry, shouldn’t swear in front of a lady.”
“I’ve heard a lot worse, and thank you for the ‘lady’. It’s been a while since anyone accused me of that.”
“Anyway, just wanted you to know. No need for you to worry. It was someone she knew. Not some random arsehole.”
“Would you like to come in?” she said.
“Not a good idea. It’s not that I don’t want too, it’s just that I might get lost in there — with you. You are quite something kid. Have a happy life,” I said.
“I will. Don’t get yourself killed or anything. I like to think of you out there keeping us all safe,” she said as she gently shut the door.
I leaned on the warm bricks when I got outside, and their warmth reminded me of when I was a kid.
The next thirty hours yielded nothing of any value, and I found myself walking through the city late in the day.
I try to avoid walking.
My body doesn’t like it, but sometimes my mind insists.
The need to sit down saw me turn into a tiny bar in one of the eponymous laneways of Melbourne. It wasn’t much bigger than a garden shed with narrow tables and chairs along one wall and a bar on the other. Mirrors made the place look bigger than it was.
“Long day mate?” said the barman who had been born somewhere other than Melbourne.
“Regulation number of hours, but it seemed longer,” I said.
Does the ‘Responsible Serving Of Alcohol’ certificate include a module on ‘how to chat with customers’, or does it come naturally.
“Something Scottish, single malt, lots of smoke please — neat,” I said.
I didn’t go up to the bar. I wanted to see how he was going to get out from behind it. It seemed impossible from where I was sitting.
Of course, he could have put my drink on the bar and made me come and get it, but he didn’t. The end of the bar hinged up and away from the wall as the bottom panel swung in, allowing the barman to escape his prison.
“That’s a neat setup. How does it work?”
“No idea,” said the barman, “the bloke who set the place up invented it. Said he saw it in Paris years ago. Always remembered how it worked.”
I waved my debit card at the barman, and he gestured in the time-honoured way.
“Catch me when you’re done,” he said, and I thought he was very trusting considering the prices in his bar. Doing a runner after a couple of drinks would pay your rent for a week.
My drink smelled terrific, and when I added a splash of water (generously supplied without being asked for), the space around me filled with smoky goodness.
I still had to make it home to my bed, so I drank slowly. Good whisky is meant to be drunk that way, so I wasn’t pressured.
After two drinks, I was warm and significantly poorer, but none the wiser.
Cop movies will tell you that the first three days after a murder are critical, and they are, but a lot depends on hard work and blind luck.
This case was shaping up to be a lot of the former and not a lot of the latter.
Egg had spent an enjoyable time (as pleasant as it gets when you tell someone’s workmates that their friend is dead in suspicious circumstances) talking to the fellow inmates at Debra’s workplace. He checked the make and model of her computer and the office printer.
They did not match the printing on the ‘suicide’ note.
Strike two for me.
We already knew that this was most likely a murder, but I do enjoy being right.
There has been way too much going on for me to focus on my problems.
As a child, I subscribed to the theory that if you ignored something, there was a good chance it would go away.
Statistically, the jury is still out, but in this case, ignoring the problem is my only choice. What’s done is done, and the longer it goes where I don’t hear any more about it, the better it will get.
If the ‘higher ups’ had made up their minds about me and my perceived misdeed, I’d be filling out unemployment benefit papers instead of working on a murder case.
Do you remember the meeting I told you about? The one behind the glass wall?
Well, it turns out that I had a friend in that room.
I knew who all the people were.
Every one of them could decide my fate by speaking ill of me. So it was a no-brainer that some of them did exactly that.
Naturally, the Chief Inspector had the final say.
He’s a strange bird, and we have never had a meaningful conversation, and I’m not sure if that is him or me. Influential people don’t intimidate me, but I like this job, so staying away from people who can make my life harder seems like a wise idea. For his part, I’m just another loose cannon who can make his job harder.
I can’t say for sure, but I think it was he who sent the word down for me to do that weekend refresher course. He did me a favour there. I met Ms Carter, and I got laid. Which reminds me, I must ring her. It’s been a while.
It wasn’t his wife I was giving a seeing to in the back of that Bentley, but I guess he thought that standards had to be upheld.
I found out later that the two constables never intended to make a report.
I showed them my warrant card, and they had fun with me, which was to be the end of it. Unfortunately, one of them got done for drink driving, and he traded the information for a clean record. It didn’t work. He got done and, after a long process, lost his job. As with all cover-ups, it got uncovered, and by default, I ended up in the shit.
Penelope was an excellent lover, and the things she could do in the back of that vintage Bentley were amazing. I still tingle when I think about it.
Not unsurprisingly, our back seat trysts came to a screaming halt (no pun intended) when word got out.
The meeting behind the glass wall had nothing to do with me being caught with my pants down. Of course, that all happened ages ago, but somehow I had acquired a defender, and I’m yet to understand why.
I wouldn’t call him a friend — we barely know each other, but word got back that he stood up for me, mentioned my meagre achievements, and suggested that they see how I handle this case before any decisions are made.
The reason for this glass-encased meeting was indeed way more severe than my fucking a senior officer’s missus, but there we are, and the knowledge only increases the pressure on me to solve this murder.
It does occur to me that someone, more senior to me, knew this was not a suicide way before I did.
The thought makes me very uneasy, but I don’t have time for paranoia — that can come later when this case is done and my tenuous grip on this job is reestablished.
I have to admit to feeling expendable, but that’s nothing new.
“Go back over the details of your visit to Debra’s workplace. Don’t leave anything out. I want to know what colour nail polish they were wearing,” I said as the waitress delivered two BLTs with avocado on the side (say ‘avo’ anywhere near me, and you’ll need dental work).
Egg and I were having what passed for a breakfast meeting at the cafe near the wholesale vegetable market. My family has a long history with ‘the Markets’, but that’s a story for another time.
“There were two long blacks to go with these, Luv,” I said as the waitress turned to walk back to the counter.
“They’re on their way. I didn’t forget and please don’t call me ‘Luv’. We’re two decades into the twenty-first century,” said our waitress, who had had a hard morning. She wasn’t really having a go, just tired.
“I apologise sweetheart (she winced). Are you okay? You look all tuckered out,” I said, and my brain reminded me that you NEVER tell a woman that she looks tired. But, on the whole, she took it well.
The waitress put her hand on the back of my chair, and for a split second, I thought she might give me a clip over the ear.
“I’ve got two kids under five and neither of them sleep through the night. I’ve been on since four this morning and I’m buggered.”
I wondered about the four o’clock start when I remembered that the fruit and veggie market opens about then. Lots of sleepy blokes needing a cuppa.
“Would you like to sit down?” I said, moving out one of our spare chairs.
“Can’t,” she said, “got another hour to go before I sit down.”
No longer a girl and with two kids to think about, she was doing her best. One minor disaster and she would fall over the edge.
So much of life is a tightrope walk.
We watched her walk back to the counter.
I glanced at the bill sitting under my plate.
We each put a twenty-dollar note down, not wanting any change.
When the coffees arrived, I slid the bill and the notes in her direction.
“Keep the change kid,” I said. She looked at us, and somewhere inside, I think she was smiling, but it didn’t show on the outside. Tip or no tip, there were still two kids at home who wouldn’t sleep. A bloody big tip glosses over the problem.
You cannot save everyone.
Through a mouthful of BLT, Egg recounted his visit.
“About what you would expect really. As soon as I told the woman in charge, she got the staff together and told them Debra was dead. It was hard to get any of them to make sense. I was patient, I promise. Eventually I got the picture of a happy young woman who kept up with the office conversation but rarely added to the gossip. She was well liked and no hint of jealousy – from them or her. Her desk was tidy with only a few personal items. I asked and the boss said they didn’t restrict personal items. No photos on her desk or in her drawers. No personal photos on her computer. The security there is terrible. Everyone seemed to know everyone else’s computer password. I copied her hard drive and gave it to Tech. They’re a bit snowed under but they said they would have something by the end of the week. Her best friend in the office was basically incoherent. I’ll talk to her again tomorrow. Maybe she can shed some light on who Debra was seeing.”
“That’s good work,” I said, and I meant it. The kid has good instincts.
Usually, by now, I’d have a bit of an idea who might have killed who. But, unfortunately, this case was starting to drag.
The smell is the first thing that hits you.
It’s not the usual hospital smell.
This is more specific.
You feel like it is coating the inside of your nasal cavities.
The digital clock in the morgue said I was right on time.
Not my usual form.
Doctor Death didn’t glance at the time, which pissed me off. I would have copped an earful if I’d been late.
She was hunched over some poor soul while talking into a portable recorder — probably digital.
The lab assistants looked up, saw it was me, nodded, and returned to what they were doing. I guess word had gotten out that I was working with a young officer, and they were prepared with all the usual gallows humour. I noticed the wastepaper basket sitting in the corner. When the kid arrived, someone would hand it to him, and he would ask what it was for.
“You’ll find out.”
Doctor Death disapproved of such ‘goings on’, but she turned a blind eye as long as it didn’t upset the smooth flow of her department.
She is of average height for a woman. Shoulder length brown hair pulled back into a kind of ponytail, although she wouldn’t call it that. Sensible shoes that would give way to expensive ones at the end of the day. No jewellery at work. Sparkling blue eyes that stared into mine when she tried to kiss me — I told you about that.
I knew she was drunk, but those eyes said, ‘I’m fully aware of what I’m doing and you can take me right now, in that cupboard, if you want to. Don’t worry about you being younger than me, I don’t mind if you don’t.’
I had to move my hips as you do when you hug a female, and you don’t want her to think that you are coming on to her.
I held that erection for quite some time.
I’d asked around about her — her sudden reappearance.
The information was sketchy, but apparently, her marriage hit a bad patch while living in London.
“I’m going to be a lady of leisure,” she’d said, waving an expensive half-empty bottle of bubbly. “I’m going to be kept in the manner to which I’m soon to be accustomed,” she said, promptly dropping the bottle.
“You deserve it DD. Give those Poms some hell for me,” I said.
“Won’t have time. Too busy being pampered by my amazing husband.” She pointed her now empty hand in the direction of a tallish handsome man who I instantly disliked. Looked like a wanker to my trained eye, but what did it matter what I thought? She was happy, and that was all that mattered.
A lovely female PC who worked in the records office told me that someone had said to her that Mr Doctor Death turned out to be a ‘bit of a bounder’ as the Poms like to say. He needed a high profile wife, a reverse ‘handbag’ if you will, to keep up appearances. He preferred men in bed, something to do with a boarding school upbringing. She found out after a couple of years.
A couple of years!
This is a brilliant woman, and it takes her a couple of years to work out that this bloke prefers men?
What the actual fuck!
And you are sitting there wondering why people kill each other?
Someone famous (at least I think he was famous) said that love doth make fools of us all. It’s the ‘doth’ that makes it real.
Being a practical bloke, I consoled myself with the thought that she would have made a bundle out of the divorce.
Sex and money. Love and money.
Money doesn’t quite cut it when compared to love.
Egg arrived on time, and the wastepaper ritual played out. He put it by his feet, and I rubbed a smidgeon of Vicks Vapor rub under my nose. I didn’t offer him any, and I noticed him noticing my ritual.
Dr Death began her autopsy by listing everyone present, which would come in handy if one of us decided to kill or maim someone else while the autopsy was being performed. Or if there was a sudden outbreak of a deadly virus. My head goes to strange places at times of tension.
Egg lasted until a few minutes after Dr Death made her first incision. It wasn’t a record, but it put him in the top ten and cost the younger lab assistant ten dollars.
I won’t bore you with all the details, but suffice to say that a lack of a significant amount of river water in the lungs meant that we probably had an actual murder on our well-worn hands.
“I’ll have the tox-screen by late tomorrow. No obvious signs of violence other than the minor contusions, probably post mortem, that she might have received from bobbing around in the river.”
“Bobbing around? Is that different to floating about and lazing around?” I said, and Dr Death did not rise to the occasion.
The autopsy was over, and that was that. It felt like all the air had gone out of the room.
I found Egg in the corridor.
“Don’t worry about it, you lasted longer than most and you made an old lab assistant ten dollars. So, all in all, a good morning’s work. Breakfast?”
“Yes,” said Egg, still clutching the basket. I expected him to add to the contents, but he is tougher than I thought.
“Just leave that there. The loser will be out to collect it later — all part of the bet.”
We walked past two cafes, and Egg looked at me inquiringly.
“Nothing but Kale on wholemeal with a side something that used to be attached to a tree in the Amazon.”
We found a decent cafe and had a hearty meal of stuff that would eventually stop both of our hearts long after we had retired.
The cafe still had the peeled remnants of a gold leaf sign on the window. It must have been there for decades — no one does gold leaf anymore. I was impressed by the apostrophe. Also notable is that the window hadn’t been broken over those many years. The window in question could have used a good clean by someone who knew what they were doing.
The smoky window probably hadn’t been cleaned since you were allowed to smoke in cafes. Watching the world go by was an experience not unlike an old movie where Vaseline had been smeared on the lens to make an ageing star look younger.
The bloke who served us wasn’t named Cassell, and neither was the cook. I asked, but no one seemed to know who the original Cassell was.
“Too expensive to change the sign,” said the current owner. I liked his practical sense. I doubt that the health department had visited recently, but I didn’t care at that moment.
“She’d recently had sex, but Dr Death said she couldn’t definitely say if it was forced or not. She hadn’t been having intercourse for very long according to the Doc and I wasn’t going to ask how she knew that — took her word for it,” I said.
“Blood stream?” said Egg.
“Find out tomorrow. My back teeth are telling me that she will have something predictable in her blood.”
It’s common sense for a homicide policeman to not get emotionally involved in a case he is working on. Common sense, yes, practical — not always possible.
Office workers taking an early lunch walked purposefully past the window of the tiny cafe. I watched the young women and thought that any one of them could be our dead Debra. They weren’t, of course, and that’s how life goes — it goes on. These girls are oblivious to the death of our young woman. Maybe they will read about it or hear about it on radio or television, and then their life will go on. Debra is forever frozen in time. Her clock stopped when someone decided that she was expendable.
I didn’t have long to wait for a tram.
It wasn’t raining, and the wind was gentle.
The tram was built in the 1940s (I know these things), and the driver had never been a passenger in his life. He was obsessed with the tram’s ability to out-accelerate the cars trying to pass it. I’m well built, but it took all of my strength to stop from being thrown out of my seat. I looked around me, and the faces of the other passengers said that if I had could organise a rope, they would gladly join in and strangle their driver.
His ability to accelerate was matched only by his skill with the brake.
I stood up and someone gasped at my foolhardiness.
I struggled my way to the front of the tram as it approached my stop.
I felt like a pole dancer as my feet left the ground.
When we came to a halt, I let go of the pole and leaned into the driver’s cabin.
“You seem to be in a bit of a hurry, pal?” I said.
“Have to make up time. Anyway, what do you care. You getting off or what?”
“Not much fun back there, Jack Brabham. Slow the fuck down a bit. Some of us are fragile.”
An old lady seated towards the front of the tram said, “and brittle, young man.”
Most passengers looked in our direction, wondering why we weren’t hurtling towards the next stop.
“Public safety officer,” I said as I moved my suit jacket to one side, revealing my detectives’ badge and my shoulder holster.
The driver’s eyes widened.
“Have a nice day, officer,” said the driver.
I stood and watched as the tram pulled slowly away.
“That bloke won’t need a laxative today,” I said to myself.
Most people think that murders happen in the morning, which isn’t true, but don’t let the truth get in the way of a story intended to make people laugh.
I don’t remember how it goes, but it has something to do with not getting a morning coffee or making the coffee poorly, causing a homicidal situation.
It usually gets a laugh — in a homicide squad.
Crap humour makes me homicidal, but I get the joke. Coffee or the lack of it equals anger.
The reality is somewhat darker.
People tend to kill each other in the darkness of the late of day.
I guess that all the hope has gone out of the day. Maybe all sane resolutions are exhausted, so you belt whoever it is that is getting in your way over the head with a lump of pipe that is conveniently lying around.
Sex and money, or a combination of both.
He/she will/won’t fuck me.
He/she took all my money.
You might think that domestic violence is different, but it isn’t. It looks different, I’ll grant you that, but when you scratch away at it, it comes down to sex and money.
But there’s the rub.
It isn’t the sex, and it isn’t the money — it’s the lack of love that kills people and induces people to kill. The sex and the money are just external symbols.
“My wife leaves me and takes the kids so I don’t get my conjugals, Your Honour, so naturally I teach them a lesson and kill them.”
“My wife and kids don’t love me anymore because of the arsehole I’ve become, so I have to strike out at them. Me mates will think I’m a wimp if I don’t do something.”
Who did Debra piss off?
Did she threaten someones financial security?
“Nothing to do today Sarge?” said the only member of the squad who was allowed to be a smart arse in my presence and live through it — we had ‘history’, we’d been through a bit together.
“I am doing something Kellerman. I’m planning your demise. I’m up to the part where I dispose of your body in a unique and imaginative way.”
“Wouldn’t help. Everyone knows that if I went missing you’d be the one who did it,” said Kellerman on his way to the stationery cupboard.
“Count on it,” I said.
If we had a couch in the squad room, I’d lie on it, but we don’t, so I sit in my chair and think. It looks like I’m ‘out to lunch’, and I sort of am, but not the way they mean.
Some detectives get their inspiration over a glass of beer, others from wading through paperwork. I knew one bloke who used to bang his head up against the tiles in the Gents. He always had a Band Aide on his forehead, but he had an enviable clear-up rate. I tried it once — you get desperate sometimes. All I got was a headache and a lump on my head.
I looked like a de-horned unicorn.
I watched the second hand on the office clock.
I’ve always loved second hands.
You don’t see many of them these days, what with digital this and digital that.
The clock in our squad room had been there since they hung Ronald Ryan, and come to think of it, I’ve never seen anyone adjust it. The bloody thing is ancient, so there is no way it has crystals or whatever it is that keeps good time.
I checked the time on my phone, and it was only a few seconds faster than the mains electric dinosaur clock hanging on the wall. Flies had pooped on it, and dust weighed it down, but round and round it went, refusing to tell bad time.
I’m going to shoot anyone who tries to remove that clock.
The thought reminded me.
I took my gun out of the top draw and put it in its holster.
I’m old enough to remember when we carried revolvers, but someone worked out that automatics were better in a sustained gunfight.
I preferred the revolver.
I’ve never been in a ‘sustained’ anything.
I usually find that the first two bullets tend to resolve the issue.
Anyway, it made the Chief commissioner look good, waving around an automatic.
A sign of the times, I guess.
The lovely thin sweep hand glided past the twelve, and the big black hand said it was two minutes past ten.
I rose from my’ thinking chair’, and within a few minutes, I’d successfully negotiated the traffic outside our building (no mean feat) and was taking the stairs, two at a time, down to the morgue.
Doctor Death was waiting.