This is the FINAL CHAPTER in the Suicide Note series. To catch up, you can visit Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four., Part Five
“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.
Catchup? Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four.
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.
If you are so inclined, Part One is here, and Part Two is here.
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.
You can read Part One of this story here
The apartment block is red brick, and someone had done a decent job of construction during a period in our city’s history when any idiot was allowed to slap up some monstrosity and make a fortune.
The brick walls were still warm, and the effect reminded me of my aunty’s house when we were kids. I loved leaning up against the warm bricks in the cool of the evening.
Our floater’s name was Debra, and she lived in flat number six. A cute policewoman used keys to let us in.
“Have you been in there Tiger?” I said.
“No sir. Been waiting out here for you.”
Egg gave her a smile, but she didn’t return it.
The flat was neat and tidy and smelled of orange blossoms.
There were photos on the mantlepiece, and the sounds of traffic leaked through the thick brick walls.
Walking into someone’s world like this always makes me slightly dizzy.
The air was thick in this warm room. The cool air from the open doorway was welcome.
The only thing out of place in the tiny flat was a single sheet of paper lying on the kitchen bench.
The paper set out a list of reasons why Debra had decided to take her life.
“Kind of puts paid to your theory, Sarge,” said Egg, the expert.
“Why do you say that?”
“It’s a suicide note. She killed herself.”
“Never trust a suicide note that isn’t hand written. The bloody thing isn’t even signed.”
“But there it is,” said Egg triumphantly.
“The note was produced by a computer printer. Do you see a printer or a computer anywhere?”
Egg looked around.
“She might have printed it at work.”
“Might have, but didn’t.”
We knocked on the other five doors in the block, not expecting any answers. We’d send local plods back after dark to do another run.
Number three answered the door just as I turned away.
“Hello,” said an attractive woman in her early forties. Shoulder length brown hair, slightly dishevelled.
“Sorry to disturb you Mam ..”
“Sorry to disturb you Miss,” I smiled involuntarily. It was something about the way she said it, ‘Miss’.
“We were wondering if you could tell us something about the woman who lives in number six?”
“We? Are there more of you?” The question took me off guard.
Police officers do a lot of these.
“Do you know, have you seen, etc.”
There’s a finite number of responses. You hear them all eventually. Many of them are rude, insulting, judgemental, homophobic, racist and boring.
Despite her ruffled exterior (most of us look a bit under the weather when we answer the door), her eyes sparkled with life.
“My partner and I,” I said self-consciously. I was losing the upper hand. The hand that said, I’m a copper, and I need information, so don’t piss me about I haven’t had my lunch yet.
The forty-something craned her neck to see past me in both directions.
Egg hove into view, and forty-something smiled.
“He’s too young for you,” I said as softly as I could.
“Pardon,” said forty-something.
“Number six? How old would you say she was?”
“Debra? No idea. Twenty something?”
“Do you know where she worked?” asked Egg, and I realised we were talking through the forty-something’s screen door. Inviting ourselves into her flat seemed like a bad idea. Might not make it out in one piece.
Forty-something told us where she worked, and I sent Egg off to talk to her workmates.
“Take the car. I’ll catch a tram back,” I said as I handed him the keys. Egg momentarily turned into a sixteen-year-old being allowed to drive dad’s car.
“You do have a licence?” I said and instantly regretted it. His face sank.
“Yes Sarge. Top of my class.”
I resisted the urge to ask him how many people were in his class and handed him the keys.
“Scratch it and I’ll take out your appendix with a spoon.”
“Nice young man,” said forty-something.
“Yeah, but he isn’t waterproof,” I said.
Forty-something looked bemused before asking, “Has something happened to Debra?”
I ignored her question. I wasn’t sure if her relatives had been informed.
“Did she ever discuss serious stuff with you? Did you have that kind of relationship?”
“No. Not really. She watered my plants for me if I was going to be away, that sort of thing, but no ‘deep and meaningfuls’. Is she okay?”
“Not really,” I said, “we have a body, but it hasn’t been formally identified as yet.”
Forty-something reached for her phone and showed me a photo. Two women with goofy smiles leaning up against the red brick wall of the apartment block.
“Not allowed to say until she’s been identified,” I said.
A cat walked up and sat next to me, and forty-something opened the screen door just enough to let it in.
“Nietzsche,” she said.
“Never trust a thought that occurs to you indoors,” I said.
“Pardon?” she said.
“Nothing. Just something a cat once told me.”
Forty-something was used to me by now, so she didn’t raise an eyebrow.
“Was Debra the sort of person who would do herself harm?” I said.
Forty-something took a moment before answering.
“I might, but I don’t think she would. Drove me crazy with her smiling and optimism.”
I thanked her and half turned to go when she said, ”When you come to these doors after they find me one day, tell them I wasn’t as bad as they thought. My cat would speak up for me. At least I hope he would.”
“Nietzsche loved horses and cats do too. Anyone who likes cats can’t be too bad. Don’t make me knock on these doors on your account any time soon. Okay?” I said.
“Okay,” she said.