The envelope had been lying on Sam’s desk since the mail arrived earlier that morning. All other correspondence had been dealt with but the letter from a firm of Adelaide solicitors, Coen Coen and Coen, was just lying there like a grenade waiting to go off.
“Who did I piss off in Adelaide?”
It was a rhetorical question mostly because there was no one in the office to answer it.
“Better get it over with I guess,” said Sam reaching for the silver letter opener which was a trophy from a particularly difficult case.
Thick paper, probably bonded, and the letter opener had to work hard to slice through it.
“Bloody solicitors, I’ll bet they can afford expensive stationery. Always hassling good upstanding citizens like myself.” Sam was smiling at his own joke and some of the anxiety that had been circling him over the past few days was dissipating. Sam had been experiencing an uneasy feeling for some time and it was reasonable to assume that this letter had something to do with that.
As it turned out, the envelope held several pages, single-spaced, and full of ‘legal speak’. What it boiled down to, was a request. Coen, Coen and Coen were acting for a family that just received a coroner’s verdict: death by misadventure. The family’s verdict, although the letter didn’t phrase it this way, was one of outrage and disappointment.
In their world, bullets didn’t come out of nowhere and strike down innocent people without there being an explanation. The police had investigated for more than a year and the inquest spanned three days of testimony, but, in the end, there were no definitive answers.
Death by misadventure.
The shooting had happened in a leafy Melbourne suburb nearly 2 years earlier. Although most of the family live in Adelaide the woman in question had followed her heart to Melbourne. In just under three years, her heart was broken but she had fallen in love this amazing city.
On the day in question, she had been walking along a quiet suburban street in an up-market part of Melbourne. Witnesses responded to the yelping of a small dog. The little dog was trying to wake her up, but the bullet that struck her heart made sure that her little dog’s efforts were in vain.
The transcript from the coroner’s court described her as tall, elegant, and well dressed. It told nothing of the person behind this appearance. This would be one of Sam’s jobs. Knowing who this woman was might possibly lead to her killer.
Her name was Linda McAndrews, and the McAndrews family are a big deal in the city of churches. The patriarch of the family, Andrew McAndrews, had followed his heart from Melbourne to Adelaide where he married a local girl and together they built a family and a fortune.
Deep pockets get you attention in any city.
“Don’t they have any decent private investigators in Adelaide?”
Sam’s question was just as rhetorical, but he would ask that question again in the days that followed. There was a flurry of correspondence between Sam and the Adelaide solicitors. Sam tried to shorten the experience by phoning the person named on the bottom of the letter, but they insisted that all correspondence should be in writing.
This time, Sam wasn’t talking to himself, but his part-time secretary ignored him from experience. It was best to leave Sam alone when he got annoyed.
Linda McAndrews had led a quiet life in Melbourne. She had family money so she didn’t have to work, but she did volunteer at the thrift shop near her home. Her father insisted that she should be a contributing member of her community.
Sam had visited some strange and wonderful places in search of answers, but this was his first visit to an ‘Op’ Shop’.
The ladies who were on duty were helpful and sad. They knew Linda and they liked her. Most of the staff were at a loose end and combine this with a kind heart and volunteering where the proceeds of their labours went to Charity and you got an interesting mix of humanity. They all agreed that Linda was different. There were other rich ladies who had time on their hands, but they came with a certain type of attitude. Linda and ‘attitude’ did not go together. She was fresh and real; some would say a bit naive, but in a gentle happy sort of way. No one ever heard her say a negative thing about anyone.
“When she spoke to you, you felt like you were the most important thing in her life. She was like that with everyone. The ‘lonely ones’ loved her. She never fobbed them off. She listened patiently and always asked pertinent questions. She was the gentlest soul I have ever known.” The lady speaking had tears in her eyes, and Sam believed every word that she said.
“Did anyone ever give her a hard time? Speak rudely to her? Threaten her in any way?”
“No, not that I can remember. We sometimes worked on different days, but I’m sure that I would have heard if something like that had happened. Interesting news travels fast in a place like this. It’s a way of passing the time.”
The woman speaking to Sam was in her later fifties. A runaway husband and an empty nest had led her to work here, “Because I get to talk to people who don’t pity me. We are all in a similar boat.” With experienced eyes, Sam surmised that this lady had once been very pretty indeed. She was still attractive, but the sadness in her life had left its mark on her face. Her eyes reflected this sadness, but they were clear and bright. She was enjoying the attention of this handsome man. Sam too knew how to listen when the occasion demanded.
One of the other ladies had obviously overheard this conversation. She approached them confidently.
“It was a while ago now, but I do remember that there was a man who came into the shop on two different days asking about some clothes that had been left on the doorstep. They had been sold, but he wanted to know who had bought them. We told him that we don’t collect names and addresses, but he wasn’t satisfied. He wanted to know who had sorted the clothes and who had sold them. I didn’t like his tone so I told him to leave. He came back the next day and I happened to be working that day as well. He was talking to one of the other women and the conversation was getting heated by the time I intervened. I told him that if he ever came back I would call the police. I lied and told him that one of the ladies was married to a policeman. It seemed to work because I never saw him again.”
“Did you tell this to the police when Linda was killed?”
“They never spoke to any of us, and in any case, I only just remembered. There is a chance that he may have gotten a name from my colleague before I threw him out. Unfortunately, this lady died not long after this conversation. She was run over by a hit and run driver, just outside the shop. It was horrible. I’d never connected any of these events until now. There are shivers going up my spine.”
“I don’t think you need to worry.” Sam wasn’t at all sure that this was true, but what else could he say? “Do you know what kind of clothes were donated?”
“The usual things, nothing out of the ordinary. Some women’s clothes and a man’s suit. All quality stuff. I remember it being mentioned that most of the clothes were expensive and hardly worn. We don’t get a lot of really good clothes donated. It’s not that sort of area.”
“Did anyone go through the clothes when they came in?”
“That’s standard procedure. You wouldn’t believe what people leave in the pockets. Some of the stuff finds its way back, but mostly people don’t ask and the anonymous donations are impossible to trace.”
In a sea of dead ends, finally a lead.
Linda had either found something that someone didn’t want found, or more tragically, she died because someone thought that she had.
“What do you do with the items that are unclaimed?”
“We usually keep them for a year, or less if the box starts to fill up. Space is at a premium in a small shop.”
“Would it be okay if I had a look at that box?”
“Not exactly protocol, but if you don’t tell anyone, I won’t.”
In a well-written detective novel, Sam would have found the item that linked the killer to Linda, but this was real life and the box, though full of interesting things, held nothing that would help Sam find Linda’s killer.”
After sharing a cup of tea with the friendly ladies and remarking on the beautiful cups and saucers, “one of the perks of working in a place like this is that we get to drink from beautiful china cups. Each one different and each with a story to tell,” Sam needed a beer and a toilet. “Cups of tea go straight through me.”
As it turned out, the beer had the same effect but the change in scenery and a chance to ‘use the facilities’ gave Sam time to sift through all that he had learned.
This case had looked like it was going somewhere only to go nowhere. That wasn’t absolutely true. Linda’s volunteer work seemed like it had something to do with her death, but what?
Sam had learned that people can be remarkably stupid and amazingly predictable. Local CCTV around the Op Shop was unlikely to be available after such a long time, but the police and local councils keep records of parking offences, speeding fines and red light camera offences. Everyone concerned was reluctant to part with the relevant information, but an influential firm of solicitors and a powerful family can open doors.
There it was, in the red light camera records. Two offences at the same intersection not far from the Op Shop and on the two days that the irate and unwitting donator had been in the shop.
The police were under pressure to clear this high profile case so Sam passed on what he had discovered to the Senior Sergeant in charge of the case.
“If this pans out you get the credit and I get a bottle of Single Malt, 18-years-old.”
“If this goes nowhere you’ll get more speeding fines than you thought possible. You are not my favourite person Bennett. But fair enough. Maybe a bottle of ‘J and B’ if the budget stretches that far. Now piss off.”
Gerald Howard Beasly was up to his neck in a land deal that involved swindling several old couples out of the rightful value of their land. Something to do with a new shopping Mall. The news broke about his involvement six months before and he was under an investigation that would have led to him spending time inside, but now that term of imprisonment was more likely to mean that there would be flying cars the next time he saw the outside world.
He had shot Linda McAndrews in the mistaken belief that she had the evidence that would link him to this shonky deal. She didn’t and the news got out anyway.
Gerald was a crack shot, and the rifle and silencer that the police confiscated were worth more than a small used car.
He killed her with a shot fired from more than 800 metres away, so no one nearby heard anything except the pathetic cries of a small dog trying to wake her dead mistress.