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.
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.
Just like athletes’ foot and bad-taste Christmas jumpers, retirement comes to everyone.
Well, almost everyone.
“Raise your glasses for a good copper going out to pasture,” said Chief Inspector Spacey, who looked to be about nineteen years old.
Plastic goblets were raised, and the soon to be ex-Inspector McBride wondered how these young people came to be in charge.
Not enough arse kissing was his conclusion, and he was right.
He hadn’t ‘played the game’ in his time in the Force.
Inspector McBride was leaving the Homicide squad after two stints lasting more than twenty years.
McBride’s sixtieth birthday was not for another few months, and he could have served out his time, but now was the best time to leave.
Their beloved daughter had moved out of home to be with her university friends. Now he and his wife, Helen, could get to know each other all over again.
The nest was empty.
There was the possibility of travel, but McBride preferred the idea of sleeping in and possibly never getting out of bed except for walking the dog.
Then there was catching up on reading and spending some time in the kitchen (he loved to cook, but there never seemed enough time).
The squad room was full of people who would not give him a second thought six months after he was gone, and he knew it. It didn’t worry him — that’s the way things go. Life goes on, and most coppers are too busy to be sentimental.
This gathering would break up when the bubbly ran out. Nice of the Chief Super to lay on a spread. Most coppers didn’t get an official sendoff.
McBride had taken on legendary status.
Some of his cases were taught at the Police Training College in Melbourne.
Rumour had it that he ‘always’ got his man.
His men nicknamed him ‘the Mounty’.
Despite his reputation, it was common knowledge that ‘the winged killer’ was his Moby Dick.
Later that night, McBride and his wife would meet up with Wilson and his wife. Their friendship had spanned three decades. Wilson was now the Chief Superintendent of the entire Eastern region of Victoria. McBride was proud of his friend’s achievements and a little jealous — but not so much that it showed.
For now, there was moderately good bubbly spoilt only by the taste of plastic and the ever-present schoolboy police humour.
It was getting dark when McBride gathered up his jacket and took one last look at what was his desk. He touched the timber surface gently. He’d had to fight the logistics department to hang onto the old desk.
As he left, a chorus of, “The mounty is leaving the building,” broke out. What was left of the celebration crew looked a bit the worse for wear.
McBride smiled and gave a final wave, and what he thought a ‘Mounty’ salute might look like.
The taxi was waiting for him at the front gate.
Someone had ordered a Silver Service limo, “All paid for in advance, sir. Where would you like to go?”
“Home seems like a good idea.”
The large inflatable Canadian Mounted Policeman barely made it into the back of the limo next to ex-Inspector McBride. It made strange squeaking noises as he pushed it into position. McBride smiled in just the same way that all small boys do when someone farts.
“I’ve never seen one of those before,” said the driver who was in full uniform, including a cap with the logo of the hire company attached.
“Me either,” said McBride. “It’s a kind of joke. I was a policeman and I had a reputation for always catching the killer, which wasn’t true. But you know how the truth never gets in the way of a good nickname?”
“I’ve never had a nickname,” said the driver somewhat sadly.
“You can have mine if you want it?”
“No, sir. That wouldn’t be proper,” said the uniformed driver.
“On second thoughts, before you take me home — do you remember where Dark Angel Pizza used to be?”
“Yes sir, I do. Best pizzas in Melbourne. It was a shame when it closed down — all those years. I believe the owner died.”
“Can you drive me over there?”
“Of course sir, but I’m sure it’s just a boarded-up shop these days.”
“Let’s do it anyway. The place has a ghost that I can’t put to rest.”
The driver was intrigued, but he didn’t comment.
McBride pressed the button and rolled down the tinted window and stared at the building that, for many years, sold excellent pizzas and once employed an enigmatic pizza delivery driver who liked to be called Raphael.
The building still had its faded sign, Dark Angel Pizza.
“Do you remember the bloke who delivered pizzas from here, about twenty years ago? Rode a bicycle, had a winged helmet and wings attached to his leather jacket?”
“Before my time sir. We only migrated to Australia about ten years ago.”
“He was quite a sight and he’s the one that got away.”
“I don’t understand sir.”
“It doesn’t matter. Home now I think.”
Il Barcaro was in full swing when the two couples arrived.
The head waiter greeted them as they entered the restaurant from Little Collins Street. Construction on the tall building opposite meant that a handful of parking spaces had come back into service.
The two wives had bought new outfits for the occasion, and Chief Superintendent Wilson has blown off dinner with the Lord Mayor of Melbourne to be with his old friend.
Tony, the head waiter and part-owner, greeted them as though they were his favourite customers — that was his way.
“Treat everyone the same. Treat everyone with respect.”
He showed them to their table and asked if they would like a drink.
The ladies ordered something pink and sticky, served in a cocktail glass.
The men asked for Scotch — the good stuff.
“Anything for you Inspector,” said Mario, who had been given the responsibility of looking after the table.
The menu was heavy on seafood, which didn’t suit McBride, so he asked for a pasta starter’s larger serve.
“Ex-Inspector,” said McBride, “and how did you know?”
“You are famous Inspector. Not many honest people left in this world and you are considered to be one of the few.”
Mario put out his hand, and McBride shook hands with him.
The staff of the restaurant stopped what they were doing and applauded.
“Are you a movie star?” said the lady on the next table who was wearing a small fortune in jewellery.
“No,” said McBride, “an honest copper. Apparently, I’m a rare commodity.”
“Good for you. You go get ’em sarge.”
“Was that your doing Wilson?”
“You booked the restaurant. I thought you paid them to be nice to you,” laughed Wilson.
“You’ve been in the papers dear. Almost all of them. You’ve had a long and successful career and people are grateful.”
“I guess,” said McBride, who was a little embarrassed, but also enjoying the acknowledgement.
“Your drinks are on the house — go crazy,” said Mario.
The McBride party were among the last to leave. The City was still alive, despite the hour.
“Fancy a walk ladies?”
“Down to the river, Federation Square. Look at the water. Arrest a couple of drunks, that sort of thing.”
“Sounds good,” said Wilson and the two couples walked down the hill and turned left into Swanston Street. Along the way, a taxi got a bit close, and McBride threatened to arrest the driver.
“No warrant card, old son. You’re a civilian now. No more sword of justice for you,” said Wilson, and he was aware of how sad that all sounded.
The couples sat on the bank of the Yarra and looked at the lights reflected on the water. No one needed arresting, and the two couples ambled (because they didn’t want the evening to end) back to their car and drove home.
At the Wilson home, the old friends embraced, and the evening was over, and so was McBride’s career.
“What the hell am I going to do now?” he said to Mary.
She didn’t answer, but she did hug him very tightly.
Ex-Inspector McBride sat on his couch watching the Cricket on TV.
His wife, Helen, was making their lunch — an avocado salad.
McBride was enjoying a beer after working in the garden most of the morning.
When a knock came from the front door, McBride told his wife he would see to it. He put his beer on the coffee table then moved it to a nearby drink coaster — not worth risking the wrath of the lady of the house.
“Good afternoon Inspector,” said the young man in the leather jacket.
“I know you might be thinking about trying to arrest me, but I’m strong and young and you aren’t and I really don’t want to hurt you. No offence, it’s just the way things are. You could ring the police, I won’t stop you, but I’ll be gone before they get here.”
“What do you want?” said McBride.
“I thought you deserved an explanation.”
The young man with his chrome helmet stood waiting for McBride’s decision.
McBride weighed up his chances of overpowering the young man he remembered as Christopher Dawson, aka Raphael — the Winged Killer — his Moby Dick.
“You’d better come in.”
Raphael moved past McBride, and his wing brushed across his face leaving a tingling sensation. A sensation he’d had described to him by a young custody constable, so long ago.
Raphael stood in McBride’s lounge room with the second Test Match’s sounds between England and Australia playing in the background.
“Helen. Can you come out here? I have someone I want you to meet.”
Helen McBride stepped into the room, fixing her hair as women will do when visitors arrive unexpectedly.
She was holding a wooden spoon used for mixing cakes.
She stopped, opened her mouth slightly as the wooden spoon tumbled out of her hand and onto the floor. It made a unique sound, bounced a couple of times and came to rest in front of a tall young man with white wings protruding from his leather jacket.
Raphael stooped down and picked up the sticky spoon. He handed it to Helen, who took it, still with her mouth frozen half-open.
“This is Raphael. The winged pizza delivery driver I told you about all those years ago.”
McBride turned to Raphael and asked, “Are you still delivering pizzas?”
“Yes,” said Raphael, “but that’s not what I came to talk to you about.”
“Where have you been for the past twenty years?”
“You wouldn’t understand if I told you,” said Raphael.
By this time, Helen McBride had regained her composure. She sat on a footstool and listened to what was to become a surreal conversation.
“It’s a place called Standarderin. Obviously, it’s not around here. I was sent there because of what I did. I had to stay there and work and get my head straight, as you would say.”
“For twenty years!”
“Time doesn’t affect us the way it does you. It wasn’t long in the scheme of things. I’m just glad I was allowed to come back and continue my work.”
“What is your work, exactly?” said Helen, finding her voice.
“It’s not easy to explain, but to put it simply, I tidy up a bit.”
“You’re right, I don’t understand,” said Helen.
“Okay, look at it this way. When people decide to be human…”
“Yes you all do, but when you get here there are hundreds of things that conspire to confuse you and maybe bump you off course. My job is to help selected females to get back on track. They get into relationships with violent men and I try to coax them away. It’s harder than it sounds.”
“Why don’t you work with the violent men?” asked Helen who was really getting into the swing of this conversation.
“Because it isn’t why I’m here, and besides, these men are usually too far gone to listen.”
“So, what happened on the Hemingway Estate?” asked McBride.
“You know when I said I don’t work to persuade the men? Well, I made an exception. I knew where he was hiding and I knew that he’d killed her. I was angry. She wasn’t the first woman I was unable to influence. I’ve lost many good souls over the years, but this one got to me. I was so close. She was going to leave that day. I had a place for her to stay, but she wanted to go back for some personal things. You Humans have a lot of trouble leaving things behind.”
“So he caught her and killed her.”
“Yes, and it broke my heart. All that blood and despair. I broke our rules and I went looking for him. I found him. I tried to speak to him, but all he wanted to do was argue and fight. I warned him about how strong I am and he laughed. He said something dirty about her and me and I hit him very hard. He didn’t get up. I remembered how upset you were about her being dead and no one telling the police. I took the man’s body to the pizza shop and told the owner to tell you what had happened, which I guess he did.”
“I’ve been in terrible battles and killed many beings and I don’t want to be that person anymore, that’s one of the reasons I accepted this assignment. I want to help not hurt.”
“So what now?”
“The young man who killed his partner and in turn was killed by me is sorry that he wasted his time here and he has forgiven me as she has forgiven him. They have started again in the hope of getting it right this time, and I’m back at my old job.”
“Aren’t you worried about getting caught for that man’s murder?” asked Helen.
“It was a long time ago and most of the officers who investigated the case are dead or retired, and besides, I have powerful friends and remarkable abilities. I’ll be okay as long as I stick to my purpose.”
“I’m pleased you came, but I’m still not sure why you bothered. I can’t cause you any grief, I’m retired.”
Raphael stood up, and McBride and Helen stood up instinctively.
“This is a special assignment for me. A one-off you might say. You two have lived the life you came here to live and you should be proud that you stuck to your guns and didn’t waver. Even though you were only blessed with one child.”
Raphael looked at Helen.
“Even though you were passed over for promotion, you maintained your values and you never took the easy way out, or the easy money or the dishonest shortcut.”
Raphael beckoned the couple to come closer.
McBride watched as Raphael’s wings grew larger until they almost touched the ceiling.
Raphael wrapped his wings around them both, and they were enveloped in a fluffy white cloud.
“What you will experience, isn’t for you just yet, but I’ve been asked to show you something special.”
McBride held his wife’s hand, and she squeezed it very hard.
“Oh, my God it’s amazing!”
Neighbours reported seeing a blinding light coming from McBride’s house in the middle of the day halfway through Australia’s second innings versus England.
Ex-Inspector McBride assured the emergency services workers who arrived at his front door that all was fine.
“We were just cooking a pizza and things got out of hand.”
“Until this taskforce was established, Christopher Dawson had slipped under the radar,” said the moderately attractive woman.
A trained eye would have noticed that she was nervous, and the room was full of trained eyes. Fortunately for her, they just wanted the meeting to be over, so they were less than observant.
“Exhaustive research, revealed his name several times in domestic violence cases going back more than a decade. Always as a peripheral character. He has never been wanted for anything. Never been a suspect.”
“Until now,” said Inspector McBride to his Sergeant.
The speaker gave him a glance.
“Several women have stated that he helped them escape violent partners. So how is he constantly on hand in these situations? It has been hypothesised that he is receiving information from someone inside the police force.”
“First I’ve heard of it,” said the Inspector and the speaker gave up her campaign of withering looks — police officers seemed immune.
The speaker was Inspector Glenis Waters.
She had worked her way up through the ranks and had studied psychology in her own time. She specialised in criminal profiling and had spent time in the United States at the FBI’s headquarters.
She was considered a ‘rising star’, particularly after writing a profile of the Sandpit Murderer. She described him in remarkable detail, down to the unmatched socks.
“We have discounted this theory because of the widespread nature of the domestic violence cases. There is no central registry for domestic incidents.”
Inspector Waters paused. If it were blokes who were getting the shit kicked out of them, there’d be a central registry, she thought.
“So there is no-one who had access to all the incidents.”
“What we have here is a classic hero type. A guardian angel delusion. A tiny brain that needs significance. I’m not sure yet why he broke his carefully constructed mould and branched out into murder, but I do know that he now has a taste for it and we need to stop him,” said Inspector Waters.
“What’s with his costume?” said a voice from the back.
There were a variety of police officers wedged into the muster room. Some were directly involved in the task force, and a couple had invited themselves out of curiosity — curiosity about the case, and curiosity about the star profiler.
Inspector McBride and Sergeant Wilson were sitting on a desk at the back of the room.
“His winged helmet and leather jacket are a sign of his flamboyance. The wings are obvious.”
“Not to me,” said Sergeant Wilson.
Another attempt at a withering glance.
Withering glances aside, McBride and Wilson felt that they had been judged and found wanting.
The chief commissioner summoned them to his office some three weeks prior.
“I want this bozo caught! We do the police work in this state, not this nutbag. I’m getting calls from the Minister and I’m sick of reading about this bloke in the papers. Sort this out. Get a task force together.”
Inspector McBride wanted to ask where the money would come from, but his Sergeant stopped him just in time. These meeting types were traditionally one-way conversations, finished off with a “Yes Sir,” at the end.
“Christopher Dawson does not appear to exist prior to about ten years ago, which means that he probably came here from interstate. We’ve sent out a general alert and are waiting to hear back, but in the meantime, here’s what we have found out.” Inspector Waters consulted her notes.
“He’s probably from bloody Queensland,” said a voice from the back. A light smattering of laughter broke out.
Inspector Waters waited for it to die down.
“He doesn’t have a driver’s licence, which fits with why he delivers pizza on a bicycle.”
“We have people working on the idea that he might have been involved in a road accident back in the day. Maybe he was driving or was hurt by another driver,” said Sergeant Wilson. The eyes in the room were on him, but he didn’t have anything else to add.
“There aren’t many photographs of this man, with the single exception of the newspaper shot. It’s a profile shot and a bit shaky, but it shows enough to tell us that this man has not changed his appearance, in the slightest, in more than ten years.”
“Maybe he’s Dorian Grey,” said a young female, who was sitting on the window sill. She’d rather noisily opened a window before she sat down.
A young constable asked his mate who Dorian Grey was, and his friend said he was a local pimp. The young constable seemed even more confused.
The general absence of laughter made the young female feel on the outer. Either the occupants of the room were not well-read, or they just didn’t like her. She decided on a mix of the two.
“What about CCTV?”
“I was coming to that and it’s weird. The local station went looking for footage around the time of the newspaper photo. Nothing. Some of the businesses in the area delete their footage after forty eight hours, but some keep their footage on a cloud server. Every one of them reported the same situation. Whenever they should have recorded the pizza delivery driver ride by, the footage was blank. Only for a few seconds, but blank. All the stores use different storage companies so that rules out hacking. Even if this bloke was skilled enough to hack all these accounts, he should have missed one — it’s the law of averages.”
Inspector Waters banged her hand on the lectern, which was her first sign of emotion.
“Why not delete the whole file?” she added. No one had an answer.
Someone’s tummy rumbled, and the people around them laughed.
“I know it’s lunch time so I’ll sum up what I know so far. Other than what I’ve mentioned, we know that he lives a simple existence. He doesn’t have a lot of possessions. He always wears the same clothes — no one reports seeing him anywhere near a laundromat. He doesn’t eat at local cafes and doesn’t appear to eat at home. No groceries in his cupboards, either that or he stopped to gather them up when he left in a hurry after the murder — unlikely, if you ask me.”
Inspector McBride dug cellophane lollies out of his pocket and offered one to his Sergeant.
“Might stop us from starving,” said the Inspector. His Sergeant took one with a smile.
“He always rides a white bicycle. No one reports him walking any distance — possible due to an accident?” The Inspector looked in the direction of McBride and Wilson, as an acknowledgement.
“His chrome helmet seems to be homemade and the wings stuck to his leather jacket are remarkably well maintained. How does he manage this? Does he have spare sets somewhere. He has to renew them sometime. Is someone supplying them?”
“Going back to something you said earlier,” said the female sitting on the windowsill, and the room gave a groan, which increased her belief that it was her they didn’t like.
“How do we know that he hasn’t changed much in ten years.”
“Sorry, I forgot to mention, we have a photo that someone took when he was working at Bazza’s Pizza in Benalla. They had a camera and asked for what passed as a selfie, back in those days.”
A slightly out of focus photograph flashed up on the screen that had previously been showing the newspaper shot. Three smiling females and one serious man looked at the camera. The man was dressed in the same jeans and leather jacket, and he was holding his chrome winged helmet under his arm as a soldier would when standing at attention. His hair was dark and wavy and was unkempt in a way that suggested that he didn’t worry much about his appearance.
His eyes were the first thing you noticed — piercing, but kind and gentle. They made you want to hug him or buy him a beer — probably both.
“The woman on his right, is one of the women he ‘saved’. She still had the photo when we contacted her. She was reluctant to part with it. I had to take a photo of it on the spot, which explains why it’s a bit out of focus.”
“As you can see,” the photos were placed side by side by constable Perkins, who prided himself on his I.T. abilities, “he looks exactly the same. Hasn’t aged a day.”
“Blokes get it easy in the ageing department,” said the window sill.
“Piss off, you sheilas have all those wonder drugs — anti ageing shit. All we have is beer and a comfy couch,” said someone who was too hungry to care anymore.
Generous laughter, including the window sill.
The mood toward her had softened, even if she was at the end of the joke.
“Okay. I know you creatures are hungry, so I’ll ask if there are any questions?”
Sergeant Wilson hesitated before asking, “Why do you think this bloke went from saviour to killer?”
Inspector Waters stretched her arms above her head and gave a customary sigh that comes with a stretch. She put her arms by her side and looked at Sergeant Wilson.
“Maybe he just got fed up. Do you ever feel that way Sergeant?”
Sergeant Wilson didn’t answer.
The room emptied at the pace you would expect. Inspector Waters was invited to lunch by the station commander.
“There is a good Chinese restaurant close by?” he said.
“I don’t mind where we go as long as it isn’t a pizza place,” said Inspector Waters and the Commander smiled.
The holding cells at Ocean Grove Police Station. The custody sergeant is trying to explain the disappearance of a prisoner. The cells are colder than the rest of the station, and high windows are admitting light. The walls are painted in the public service green that seems reluctant to be an actual colour. The floor is old fashioned linoleum, and the custody sergeant keeps glancing down at it in the vain hope it will open and swallow him.
“I brought him to you for safekeeping. I could have stuffed him in the boot of my car and taken him back to the city, but no. I entrusted him to you,” said Inspector McBride, without a hint of anger in his voice. This seemed strange to both of the sergeants. The custody sergeant was used to being yelled at by his chronically constipated Chief Inspector.
“When did you last see him actually in the cell?”
“I saw him when he got his dinner, but constable Willis says he was still in there at lights out — ten-thirty last night.”
“So somewhere between ten-thirty and six o’clock this morning, my suspect evaporated.”
“Well, yes. As far as we can tell. The cameras are old, and they don’t work in the dark. Never needed them to, until now. The cell door was definitely locked. No other way out.”
Sergeant Wilson peaked around the open doorway just to be sure. Definitely only one way out.
Sergeant Wilson and his Inspector had spent the night at the Seaview Motel which didn’t have a view of the sea, but you could hear it when it got quiet. The rooms were small but comfortable. Their rooms were next to each other — they both smelled the same — must have been something about the cleaning products they used.
Breakfast, which was included in the price, arrived on time. Bacon and eggs with tomato and avocado. Sergeant Wilson liked avocado, and he always pronounced it correctly.
Wilson was ready first, so he waited outside the Inspector’s room. He leaned on the car and listened to the ocean between the sound of passing traffic. Small birds were ignoring him as they rifled through the native bushes.
Sergeant Wilson didn’t like being away from home.
The two policemen knew something was up when the constable on the desk wouldn’t make eye contact.
“We’ve come to speak to our prisoner,” said the Inspector.
“If you could wait here a moment, sir, I’ll get the custody sergeant.”
“They’re a bit formal for a country station,” said Sergeant Wilson.
“Something’s up,” said the Inspector.
“So, did he say anything before he disappeared into thin air?” said the Inspector.
“I had a long chat with him last night before I clocked off. He seemed like a nice bloke. Told a good yarn, said he loved his job and I said that delivering pizzas seemed like a strange occupation. He said that it gave him time to think and he enjoyed meeting new people. Like I said — he seemed like a good bloke.”
“Did he say anything else?”
“He said he was hoping that they would forgive him. I assumed he was talking about your case, but the young constable who tucked him in said something similar, only he told it that the prisoner said he HAD been forgiven. The prisoner seemed quite excited. Said he was looking forward to getting back to work. The constable brushed it off — you hear all sorts of crazy stuff down here in the cells.”
A cafe on the foreshore which did have a view of the ocean. The two policemen from the city are having lunch, fending off ambitious seagulls, and talking about their next move.
“That big bugger has designs on your ham roll, Inspector.”
“Forget about the gulls sergeant. What are we going to do about our winged pizza deliverer?”
“Nothing we can do. We didn’t lose him. Just have to wait for him to resurface. Love to know how he got out of that cell though. Didn’t seem like the kind of bloke who could walk through walls.”
The two men drove back to Melbourne, going the long way, around the coast — The Great Ocean Road — one of Australia’s wonders and a huge tourist destination for the state of Victoria.
Inspector McBride’s wife was waiting in the driveway when he got home. She hugged him and risked crushing their baby son. McBride hugged her, and the baby played with his hair.
“Did you get your man?” said Helen McBride.
“Yes and no.”
The Inspector didn’t like to bring his work home with him, but Helen was interested, so he filtered out the heinous stuff and talked to her about the details around cases’ edges. Helen was fascinated with the hunt for the pizza delivery rider. The wings on his jacket and the chrome helmet sounded exotic.
“We caught him easily enough. He didn’t try to run. Came along peacefully. He seemed tired and worn out, and I believe he would have told us everything, except …”
“Except that he disappeared out of his cell overnight. Not a trace. I would have said it was impossible, but the more I work on this case, the less likely I am to use that word.”
Helen had the dinner ready, and the Inspector played with his son until the child fell asleep in his arms. The parents watched a movie and turned in early. The baby would be awake at the crack of dawn, so sleep was a luxury.
An unremarkable double fronted house in a nondescript street in suburban Melbourne. A man opens the front door to a pizza delivery.
“What are you dressed up for? Halloween’s months away mate,” said the young man in jeans and a singlet, “how much for the pizzas?”
The young man fishes in his jeans and brings out three five-dollar notes. He straightens them out before handing them over.
“No tip,” says the young man, “no-one tips me for doing my job.”
The pizza delivery driver stares at the young man, and the young man stares back at him.
The pizza delivery driver takes off his winged helmet and punches the young man in the face. The young man staggers back into the house and lands on the carpet — out cold.
A young woman emerges from the shadows and surveys the scene.
“Are you going to hurt me?” she says dispassionately.
“No. And neither is he, anymore.”
The young woman puts her hand to her face to cover the bruise she believes he is looking at.
“You have a choice. You can stay with this reprehensible person, and continue to be his punching bag, or you can pack a few essentials, get into your car and leave. He hides his money at the back of the bathroom cabinet.”
“How do you know that?” says the young woman.
“Your car is full of petrol, and I know that your sister will be happy to see you. It’s a long drive, so you had best get started. He could wake up soon, and he won’t be happy. Don’t come back, don’t look back. Just go. I’ve done all I can for you, now it’s up to you. Go, stay, it’s your choice.”
The woman notices the wings on the pizza bloke’s jacket as he turns to leave.
“Why are you helping me. I don’t know you at all,” says the woman, who sounds like she might begin to cry.
“It’s my job. It’s what I do. Everyone needs a job.”
The light streaming through the doorway made the feathers on his jacket glow, and the breeze made them flutter.
“If you do decide to go, which I hope you will, go back and finish the science degree you started. You have things to discover that will make a difference. People are depending on you.”
“What people? Who is depending on me? No one is interested in me. It’s too hard. How do you know all this stuff? Who are you? I can’t go back. I want to sleep for a hundred years,” said the young woman clutching at her stained dress.
“You can sleep when you get there. Now go.”
The young man put his shiny helmet on and disappeared through the doorway.
The breakfast break room at a suburban police station. One man is eating a chocolate croissant, the other is working his way through a ham roll.
“This looks promising,” said Sergeant Wilson.
“This report says that a pizza delivery driver in fancy dress beat the shit out of a bloke and stole a wad of cash. The young man who was assaulted is known to us through a series of domestic violence calls and his propensity for ‘borrowing’ other people’s cars. He’s in custody. Should get at least a year. The fourth time he’s been charged. The magistrate should have lost patience with him by now. Girlfriend has gone missing as well.”
“Yep. That’s probably him, but you know that when we get there, he’ll have vanished.”
“Yeah, I know, but we have to check it out.”
“I wonder if this young bloke knows how lucky he is to be alive? Busted nose and time inside still beats being dead.”
“Probably hasn’t got a clue. What do you say to me packing the giant butterfly net in case our suspect tries to fly away?”
The Inspector didn’t answer, but he thought it was a good idea.
“We’ve asked you in here today, Detective Sergeant, to ask you if you know anything about the assault on Senior Constable Frank Morgan?” said the man who had identified himself as an officer from Internal affairs.
I don’t remember his name now, as I didn’t make a note of it then — no point. He was just the first wave — the monkey, not the organ grinder.
“Do Internal Affairs officers get a special clothing allowance — more than we mere mortals in Robbery? I only ask because that is a particularly handsome suit. Well cut, well fitted — handsome.”
This was an old trick, and it showed him up to be relatively inexperienced in the business of extracting information — the next officer I spoke to would be better at his job — assuming there was to be a ‘next officer’.
Throw your suspect (or in this case inquisitor) a question designed to distract them and yet require an answer — breaking their train of thought.
“No, not that I know of. Maybe. No, I don’t think so,” said the young Detective Sergeant.
“Not to worry. By the way, I reserve the right to be questioned by an officer of equal or higher rank. You just won’t do young man.”
Always be on the front foot. Never retreat.
“I’m a Detective Sergeant. I said so at the beginning of our interview. I’m like you,” he said.
Back foot, and nothing like me.
“So, you did. And why am I here again?”
He repeated his question after straightening his tie and shuffling his papers (always have documents in an interview — your subject will be wondering what you have on them — on paper).
I paused for a longish time, shifted in my chair, scratched at my ear and finally said, “I don’t know SC Morgan all that well. I’ve only spent quality time with him once.” When I beat the living shit out of him with a cricket bat.
My inquisitor seemed a bit flustered — not sure where to go next.
“You do know that Senior Constable Frank Morgan is married to Detective Constable Helen Morgan, from your squad?”
“Yes, I do. She was recently assaulted, wasn’t she? Did they ever catch the evil bastard who did it?” I said through gritted teeth.
“Investigations are ongoing,” said my inquisitor and it was the first time I had heard him mumble. He knew what I was getting at, and he was embarrassed that her recently pummelled husband had not been charged. This was a good sign.
“How is SC Morgan going?”
“He’s recovering. Won’t be back at work until after the operation on his knee.” More shuffling of papers.
I was determined to not directly say that I had nothing to do with SC Morgan’s beating. It’s a small point, but I don’t like to lie — not directly.
“I don’t think I can be of much help to you. Did SC Morgan give a description of his assailant?” I was reasonably sure he hadn’t, but a bit of fishing wouldn’t hurt.
“No. His memory of the incident is a bit hazy.”
I thought so, and it probably had something to do with my parting comment to him as he lay holding his damaged knee.
“Here is a list of all the people you have taken kickbacks from over the past twelve months.”
I pushed the list into his top pocket before I put the bat in the boot of my car and drove away.
“No help with CCTV footage?” I said.
“No. His home system wasn’t switched on — for some reason.”
“Too far away and the resolution’s crap. Just a man and a dark coloured car.”
“Pity. Are we done? I have the ungodly to apprehend. It’s my job.”
“Yes. That’s all — for now. We may want to speak to you again.”
I’d heard what I needed, but I will put my cricket bat in the shed when I get home. I had considered burning the evidence, but Dean Jones signed that bat. Buggered if that arsehole Morgan is going to make me incinerate my favourite bat.
The young Internal Affairs officer gathered up his papers and left the room without making eye contact.
I stayed seated and stuck my little finger in my ear and gave it a bit of a twirl. I pulled the finger out and inspected it — shiny but no wax.
I checked my phone for messages and stretched my arms up in the air in an exaggerated stretch, all for the benefit of the people behind the mirrored panel.
Calm and relaxed.
Unhurried and with nothing to hide.
SC Morgan would probably walk with a limp for quite some time, and he will think carefully before laying a hand on his wife.
I felt satisfied that I had dealt out a bit of justice, but I could not help feeling that I had crossed a line.
A line I had so far been on the right side of.
The ungodly were waiting, so I gathered myself and left the room — striding down the corridor towards the sunlight.
“Just one more thing, Detective Sergeant. Do you play cricket?” said my inquisitor, who had stepped out of the second last office before the doors to the street.
“Not since I represented the Police Force, back in the nineties,” I said without thinking.
My young inquisitor was better than I thought he was.
“Do you think he’s been lonely down here, all alone, all these years?”
It wasn’t like my partner to be this way. Typically, he’s offhand about sudden death — professional and a bit dark in his humour.
“I don’t think so,” I said, “he’s off wherever they go when they’re not here anymore.”
“Even so,” said my partner.
Ashley Bloomfield had worked his way up through the ranks to Detective Sergeant, and I’d been his partner for nearly three years — just long enough to get to know a bloke who guards himself closely.
It was a strange question for him to ask. He’s more a question and answer type of bloke, but on this day he was looking to me for an answer.
“Are you getting all spiritual on me, Ash?” I said.
“I don’t know, maybe. It’s this place. It’s genuinely spooky.”
He had a point, but I knew not to let him get one-up on me.
The call came through at a decent hour and Ash and I were next in the rotation, and about now we wished it had been someone else.
The old mansion on St Kilda Road had been empty for more than thirty years.
Some investment company in Dubai had bought it for a sizeable sum in the early 1990s, then the property market went flat. They decided to sit on it and wait, as all well-healed people can afford to do.
No one was much interested in looking after the place, so people with nowhere else to go would find a way in — out of the storm, so to speak. The property manager would eventually block up the break-in and lose interest again.
It must have been during one of those incursions, so long ago that some sort of fight broke out, and our body had lain there ever since, covered in rubble and wooden planks.
Some enterprising developer had bought the old mansion and was preparing to renovate it (within heritage guidelines, of course) into trendy offices. St Kilda Road still has clout when it comes to city addresses.
This was going to be a thankless job.
If the body turned out to be a homeless bloke, we have our work cut out for us to identify him. If he was killed by another homeless bloke, then he’s probably dead by now. Homelessness tends to shorten your lifespan. Likely no one to slap the cuffs on, just a mountain of pointless paperwork and a John Doe toe tag.
“The forensic folks will be here soon. Constable Whatshisname can keep an eye on things. You want to get a coffee? The dust down here is clogging up my soul,” I said as I moved the most prominent plank out of our way.
The body was fully clothed (bloke’s clothing — I’m not psychic, but it seemed inevitable it was a ‘he’), and it lay where it fell, all those years ago. Bugger all forensic after all this time. No one had dropped a wallet or a calling card or a cigarette case as they do in the movies.
“A coffee sounds good. Get me the fuck out of here, before I forget I’m a lady,” said Ash, and I could see his unique sense of humour returning.
Coffee was easy to find because this is Melbourne, and even my dog can make a good coffee. You have to prove that you know what good coffee tastes like before they will let you cross the border into Victoria, and in Melbourne, the cops will breath-test you for instant coffee — if detected, the penalties are draconian.
The sandwich shop lived up to expectations, and the coffee was a perfect temperature. The tiny glass-fronted store was awash with delicious aromas.
We sat on tall stools and looked out onto the road. Trams rumbled by, and pedestrians did what pedestrians do. Some bloke was making his third attempt to park a Fiat in a space that would accommodate a mid-1960s Ford.
“What do you reckon. Is he gonna make it?” I said. Ash looked up from his coffee. He’d been mesmerised by the pattern on the crema for the past few minutes.
“Nah, he’s buggered.”
“Yeah, I agree. Most blokes will give it away after the second go. It’s too embarrassing.”
Right on cue, the Fiat shot off into traffic accompanied by the copious tooting of horns and the waving of fists.
“He nearly had it that last time,” I said.
“If I disappear in mysterious circumstances, don’t stop looking for me, will ya?”
“Is that something you’re likely to do?” I said.
“Nah, but just in case. I don’t want to lie somewhere, cold and forgotten,” said Ash, who had gone back to staring at the pattern on his coffee.
“I’ll find ya mate, but not before I’ve finished off that bottle of whisky you keep in your locker.”
Ash didn’t look up. This one had gotten to him. I had never seen him like this.
“You know I got wounded — in the war?” he said.
“Not really,” I said.
Ash’s life before the police force was a mystery to me, and I felt guilty that I had never asked. Mostly, I’m not that interested in other people. But this was different. I remember the feeling of being with a dying comrade — the less I knew about their life, the easier it was to deal with their death.
“We were on patrol, and all hell broke loose. When I woke up, my leg and back hurt like buggery and all my mates were dead. I wasn’t game to call for help so I lay there for what seemed like days, hoping someone would come looking for us. After about thirty-six hours, a rescue party found me. I don’t remember it happening, but I do remember wondering if I’d bleed to death, and I remember wondering if I’d be found or would I be one of those bodies that farmers find, decades later, after the war is over. I’ve never felt so cold and alone. Do you reckon that’s how that bloke felt?”
“I don’t mind telling you that you are freaking me out, Ash. Here, drink up,” I said as I poured the contents of my hip flask into his coffee.
The bloke behind the counter gave me a look and started to say something. I moved my jacket so he could see my detective’s badge — he went back to slicing tomatoes without saying anything.
Ash drank his coffee, and I poured a wee dram into mine.
“Same goes for me mate. If the ungodly catch up with me, don’t leave me lying out there somewhere,” I said.
“Deal,” said Ash and we clinked paper cups to seal the deal.
“What were you expecting? Table cloths, silver service?” she said.
“A table would have been nice,” I said.
“We only get forty-five minutes for lunch, and it only took us,” she looked at her watch, “ten minutes to walk here.”
During the night and on weekends, Habib’s Kitchen opened on the forecourt of the Shell service station some ten minutes walk from what used to be Coburg Teacher’s College, back in the day. These days, the predictable buildings have been repurposed to become a high school and then the privately owned, Baker Institute. Business is not thriving, hence the eagerness of Victoria Police to rent the inexpensive venue. Who gave a fuck about the comfort of the participants? Not the brass, that’s for sure.
“The chairs are comfy,” said my host, who had ordered our lunchtime feast.
Most customers get back into their cars and drive away, but as a concession to midnight dinners with a ‘skin full,’ the proprietor has provided six white plastic garden chairs — easy to hose down in the morning before going home to bed.
“Have you had a stint in ‘Traffic’?” I asked.
“Of course. Everyone does ‘Traffic’ when they start out.”
“Ever been to the impound yard?”
“Once or twice.”
“Ever get lost in that place?”
“Almost,” she admitted honestly. “Why do you ask?”
“It’s these chairs — triggered a memory.”
I took a bite of my ‘extra sauce’ special while she delicately tried to eat her ‘no chilly’ with poise.
“We have time. Tell me your story.”
I love talking with other cops. The general public gets bored quickly, and I think that what we do freaks them out — they’d rather not know how the sausage is made.
“Ever heard of Backdoor Barry?”
“No, and I don’t like lurid sex stories,” she said.
“Don’t let his name put you off. It’s nothing like you are imagining. One day I’ll tell you how he got his nickname.”
“One day?” she said, with the lift of an eyebrow. “Do you think this relationship has a life beyond lunch?”
I ignored the minefield that had been laid before me.
“Moving right along,” I said. She smiled and took another bite. A small bead of sauce oozed from the corner of her mouth, and her tongue retrieved it. I tried not to think about her tongue — I get distracted easily.
“It’s going back a few years,” I tried not to sound too much older than her, “there was a woman who did a bit of work for the bloke you haven’t heard of — I can’t believe you don’t know Backdoor Barry!”
“Get on with it, we don’t want to be late for HAVING A POSITIVE RELATIONSHIP WITH THE CORONER WHEN WE THINK HE MIGHT BE HIDING VITAL EVIDENCE.”
“Are you sure that’s what the lecture’s called?” I said, and she gave me a look.
“Anyway, there was this woman, we’ll call her Susan.”
“Cause that was her name?”
“Right. So she got car-jacked at the Rising Sun Hotel, which is where Backdoor Barry hangs out. The carjacker takes off in her car and gets totalled by a taxi as he exits the carpark. Mayhem ensues. Some important items are in Susan’s car, but she cannot get close enough to retrieve them.”
“People come from everywhere when there’s a car accident,” said Open Window with a touch of glee. She was starting to get into it.
“Our colleagues arrive along with an ambulance and the Towies. The whole nine yards. Being a resourceful person, Susan hatches a plan. After borrowing a car from Barry, she parks it in front of the local fire station, blocking the doors. She sat across the street at an all-night burger truck. They had white plastic chairs as well.”
“What was she waiting for and why park the car there?”
“All will be revealed. Patience, my girl.” She leaned forward, and for a moment, I thought I was going to get punched.
“So, there she is, eating a burger and waiting for the Fireies to notice her poor choice of a parking spot. A quiet night meant she had to sit on the hard plastic chairs for hours. Eventually, they noticed and called us. We arranged to have the car towed out of the way.”
“To the impound yard?”
“Yep. So Susan gets a taxi to the yard and fronts up to collect her car. I remember the clerk’s exact words — ‘I know your car is red lady, but that don’t excuse you parking in front of a fire station.’ She apologies, pays the fine, collects her car and drives it back to The Rising Sun Hotel where she lets the barman, Boris, out of the boot. While the red car was in impound, Boris had climbed out of the boot, retrieved Susan’s suitcase from the damaged vehicle and climbed back into the boot of the red car along with the suitcase.”
“A tight fit, I would imagine? So how did you find all this out? Did it come out at the trial?”
“Never was a trial. The carjacker died in the crash. After a lot of paperwork — case closed.”
“So how do you know all this?”
“That’s the stuff they don’t teach you in these courses. Getting to know people, dodgy people. Having them owe you. That’s where the information comes from. I got Barry drunk one day, and he told me this story so that he didn’t have to answer my real questions.”
“Did I mention, you interest me Leather Jacket?”
“No, but I guessed, and it’s Catastrophe Jones to you, Ms Carter.”
“Sixty-eight point three per cent of all murder victims that have been found dead more than two days after death are found by citizens walking their dog.”
The lecturer had excellent chalkboard technique. I ought to know, I did two years of Teacher’s College before I signed up. During those two years, we did one fifteen-minute session, and I remember learning how to hold chalk so that it didn’t make that excruciating squeaking noise. “Makes you look like you know what you are doing.”
Our instructor, freshly escaped from the classroom, knew that we didn’t — know what we were doing, that is, and he was trying to minimise our ‘knownothingness’ in the only way he knew how.
A futile but kind gesture.
“How many of the dog walkers wear jumpers, Sarge?” The smartarse with a death wish was just as bored as the rest of us, and he foolishly chose to show it.
“Roughly the same percentage as you got on your last evaluation detective Wilson from Broadmeadows. Considering the suburb you are stationed at, detective, I would have thought that your arrest record would be higher. You pretty much only have to be the unfortunate bastard who opens the front doors in the morning, and five nefarious characters come tumbling in.”
The ‘smartarse’ detective indeed got a bit of a giggle out of us, but it has to be remembered that if ‘two or more of you are gathered together there will be mirth’ applies to any gathering of knuckle-dragging police officers — it’s infectious. Laughter kills the boredom and at least a bit of the terror — terror that you might get maimed for no good reason and then get pensioned off, and terror from the thought that you are wasting your life. My terror falls into the latter category.
Our instructor got a bigger laugh.
The sound of one of the many smartarses in our life being brought down to earth is satisfying and mirthful.
He kept on writing.
Never turned around.
Eyes in the back of his head.
I could easily be back at school again.
It helped that we were in an old school room in an old school building. Now called The Baker Institute, anyone who went to school during my decade knew the unmistakable architecture. I was tempted to hang my coat on the hooks outside the sliding door. The walls are painted a modern colour, and there have been other attempts to hide the room’s original purpose.
The chairs are comfortable, but my arse was not interested in testing their long term durability.
At a glance, I’d say that there are about twenty-two of us. Mostly males, a variety of ages, but I’m probably the only one over forty. A quick scan of body language clues tells me that most inhabitants of this standard-sized room are just as pissed off as I am. One or two still think that this one-day course is part of their growth as a police officer.
“What about the bodies what never get found?” The smartarse was making one final attempt to redeem his flagging status as the funniest bloke in the room.
Without missing a beat, our instructor (I’ve forgotten his name – on the job I write stuff down, or someone else does, but here and now, who gives a fuck what this bozo’s name is) writes one point zero nine per cent on the board. Somehow he has changed the chalk colour — impressive.
“Somewhere in the region of your chances of promotion,” says our instructor. He speaks the words so softly that we lean in to catch them. Those in the front row snigger before the rest of us.
“Can we have a window open sir?” says an attractive brunette sitting a few rows forward of me.
“Yes, we can and don’t call me sir. I’m a sergeant. I work for a living.” He shot a look at the bloke sitting on the end of the row who sprang out of his seat and opened a window with the skill of someone who had done it many times.
The brunette who had been one of the few people in the room taking notes said, “Thank you, Sargent.”
There were a few moments of silence.
The board was covered in colourful statistics and a wellborn piece of chalk dangled between the instructor’s fingers.
He was thinking.
I doubted that he had lost his place.
This bloke came prepared.
I made a mental note to remember his name the next time I heard it.
Why was he here in this room with us percentage losers?
Our instructor raised a chalk dusted finger and pointed at his handiwork.
“This shit is just numbers. We’ve got a few minutes before we break for lunch (I hadn’t thought much about food until now. A raging hunger rolled over me) I want to hear a human story. Without humans, you don’t have the raw ingredients for murder. The causes are simple — sex and money.”
“And religion,” said someone behind me.
“Okay,” conceded our instructor, “but mostly sex and money. Causes might tell you why, but my job is to give you an insight into why people do what they do after the fact. Fuck why they did it, where do they dump the body? And how does that affect your investigation? Can anyone share a story about a citizen finding a body.”
He was now pointing at me and inexplicably, my hand was in the air — no idea how it got there.
“Yes. You. Leather jacket.” At least he didn’t know my name.
“Got yourself into a spot of bother with a highly ranked officer’s wife, if I remember rightly. Back of a Bentley? A patrol car shined a light in your direction. Took you a few minutes to retrieve your warrant card. Firm buttocks were unnecessarily added to the report? Was that you?”
I didn’t need to answer.
“I’ve been involved in a few cases where a body was found by a punter — before my buttocks became famous.”
The laughter was generous. The kind of laughter that says ‘glad it isn’t me that’s in the sergeant’s spotlight, you’ll be just as generous when it’s my turn, won’t you?’
“I was stationed at Preston. Most dog walkers wandered up and down the footpaths or headed to Bell State School after hours to exercise their dogs. Still, a group calling themselves The Widower Dogs Society walked their dogs up behind the old cinema off Oakover road. Merri Creek runs through there and in those days it was rough and ready. No shortage of old fridges and car tyres. These days it’s all gentrified.”
“So, what happened?”
“The Widower Dogs Society were three members strong. All of the dogs had lost a female partner. The owners banded together to brighten up their lonely dogs. Grief hits dogs as hard as it does us.”
I could see the brunette looking at me, listening intently.
I finished my story, and the instructor looked at his watch.
“Close enough,” he said, and we filed out of the room in search of food and a beer. We’d earned it.
“These things are usually a bit more salubrious. This one isn’t even catered,” said a mellifluous female voice.
“Mel Carter,” said the brunette.
“Catastrophy Jones,” I said with a straight face. “This is punishment. Catering might have spoilt the effect.”
She looked a bit surprised at my words, which could have been taken one of two ways.
“Everyone in that room, with the possible exception of you and the bloke next to you, were there because they had pissed someone off — a way of wasting our very precious Saturday.”
She thought about my words, dismissed them. They didn’t apply to her. She was young (younger than me) and on her way up.
“Your story — the Widower Dogs Club. How did you know that was what they called themselves?”
“Back then. I listened to people. When you listen, people tell a uniform all sorts of things. They were shocked. Trying to understand why someone would do such a thing. They understood stealing cars, ‘we used to nick cars when we were kids, but this!’ No-one was yelling at me to get on with it, so I listened — let them talk. They felt better because someone appeared to care about them.”
“You interest me. leather jacket.”
“You interest me, open window.”
Open Window looked at my left hand — no ring.
“Can I buy you lunch?” she said.
“Lunch with a liberated woman. Very Jane Tennison.”
“Don’t tell me you have never watched Prime Suspect? I can see that I’ll have to take your education in hand. By the way, there isn’t a ‘Mr Tennison’ floating around, is there? I don’t want to get thumped by some hulking constable who believes he has branded you.”
“There are no brands on me sunshine.”
“I look forward to proving that statement,” I said, and she didn’t slap my face.
One day, the world will stop using paper money as a currency, but until that day thieves will target where the most substantial amounts are kept.
Banks are a favourite target for obvious reasons.
It’s been my job to catch those that see robbing banks as a shortcut to the easy life. I’ve worked my way up to inspector, and I’ve served my time. In a couple of months, I will retire on a full pension. I haven’t the slightest idea what I will do with my time, but I’ll worry about that when it comes. For now, I’ve got more significant problems.
It comes as no surprise to me (although everyone else seems thoroughly shocked) that a long-serving, high ranking police officer decided to inform on most of his former corrupt colleagues to avoid going to gaol for what remained of his life.
I remember the day when detective sergeant Wilson (now assistant commissioner Wilson) first handed me an envelope with my name on it. The envelope looked innocent enough, and the wad of fifty dollar notes made it look slightly pregnant.
“Don’t look at me like that you little piss ant. You take your cut and keep your expletive mouth shut.”
I didn’t take the envelope, but the angry DS dropped it on my desk, wiped his nose on his sleeve, tucked in his considerable gut, sneered at me and sauntered off in the direction of the exit which led to our local hotel — his other office.
I’d been in the squad for about five minutes, and the old members looked at me as a spy. I was way too young in their eyes. I had to be sleeping with someone or someone’s nephew. Either way, I wasn’t to be trusted.
It may sound like I was surprised by all this, but I wasn’t. I had a mentor who told me what to expect. My mentor was six feet five inches tall and almost as wide which was partly to blame for him being retired from the armed robbery squad and the police force in general. He was just too big a target. He’d been shot three times during his career, and the last bullet damaged his colon so severely that he was considered unfit for duty.
William Prentiss was a friend of my father. In fact, my father blamed him for my career choice.
“They’ll smear you with their dirty dealings, and you will have to decide very quickly how you are going to handle yourself. If you refuse to take the kickbacks, you are likely to find yourself on your own one day staring down the barrel. If you take it, they have you, and they know you won’t tell anyone because you will look as guilty as they are. The whole thing will unravel one day when some chunky bastard contracts something terminal and decides to get all his naughty deeds off his chest before he meets his maker. But until then, you have to work out how you are going to survive.”
It was a valuable insight, and a sane person would have resigned at that point, but I’m a stubborn bastard, and I liked the idea of hunting bad guys with guns.
I gave the whole situation a lot of thought, and I decided to take the envelopes (and bundles when things went decidedly well) and catalogue them. I wrote the time, and the date and the prick who forced me to take it and I wrapped it in plastic (mostly supermarket bags) and wrote the information again on the plastic. These bundles would then be stored in shoe boxes. The boxes ended up in a huge old wooden cupboard I bought at a government auction. This thing was monstrous and weighed a lot, but it served the purpose. It’s in my garage as I write and it is packed tight.
The Greenies will tell you that supermarket bags don’t break down over time — that bollocks. Many of the bags fell to pieces as the Rat Squad pulled them out which made me glad that I had written the details on the envelopes.
You may be wondering why so many decades went by without the truth coming to light.
When everyone gets paid there is a high degree of motivation for things to continue.
Behind the scenes, there were officers like myself trying to gather information to bring these creatures in front of a court.
We planted marked money in several banks over a period of years, but the robbers always managed to avoid the tell-tale banknotes.
We had all of the phones tapped but never did we intercept a call.
It turned out that most of the banks that were being robbed had an inside person — often high ranking. Whenever a crew burst into one of the banks where we had marked money, there would be a pair of shoes in the vault. The unoccupied shoes meant that the money was tainted so the robbers would stick to what was in the tills. Small pickings, but preferable to getting caught.
If we salted the tills, the bank employee would take his shoes off and stack them neatly together where the crew would notice them. If he were questioned later, he would say that the robbers made him do it and he didn’t know why.
Naturally, the newspapers had a field day.
‘SHOELESS JOE CREW STRIKES AGAIN.’
‘THEY TOOK ALL THE MONEY AND LEFT THE SHOES BEHIND.’
‘SHOELESS AND CLUELESS.’ this last one was a dig at us for not being able to catch the robbers.
It got to the point that customers started taking their shoes off during a robbery because they thought it was expected.
This led to a lot of confusion for the thieves, and they had to switch to a different signal.
They stole a lot of money, and a great deal of it went in payoffs. The insurance companies put their premiums up, and the general public paid the price.
All this came spilling out as evidence in the case, and several high ranking officers were arrested, and a few who had retired were scooped up as well.
When they knocked on my door one Sunday afternoon, “for a friendly chat”, I told them what I knew and showed them the cupboard and its contents.
“You’re a confident bugger,” said the painfully young sergeant who was probably serving his time in the Internal Investigation Squad because it would speed his rise through the ranks.
“You’re a confident bugger — sir,” I replied.
“Yes sir,” said the young man, who now seemed a few inches shorter.
“I never spent a penny of it. It’s all there and clearly labelled. You will have fingerprints and DNA to back up my labelling and you will all look like a bunch of ungrateful bastards if you charge me. My barrister will have a field day,” I said without the slightest hint of a smile.
The brighter ones among them knew I was right, but that didn’t guarantee my safety.
“You’ll have to testify, you smug bastard,” said the highest-ranking officer and it was the first words he had spoken since they all arrived.
“It’s a little bit cramped in here,” I said. “Do you think that ten or twenty of you could step out and give me and the senior officer a bit of air?”
No one moved.
“Go on piss off,” said the officer with the gold braid. My garage was soon empty except for me, and the gold braid and a shit load of yellow envelops strewn across the floor.
“I’ll testify, and that will sew this thing up tight,” I said. “I want early retirement — starting from today, no gaol time, no protective custody, and I keep my pension.”
“I’ll have to make some calls, but I’m reasonably sure I can get you most of it, but you can kiss your pension goodbye — they’ll never go for that.”
“Just put it to them forcefully, and I’ll live with what follows,” I said.
The ‘gold braid’ got on his phone, and before long, all the blue uniforms were gone, and I had my house back. They didn’t search the house, but they did bring in a truck, and they took the old cupboard away.
They didn’t search my toolshed either, which was just as well because it contained every fourth envelope I ever received. The nasty people who forced me to take them most probably didn’t keep records so how would they know after all these years?
I had spent some of it over the years, but there was still a small mountain of them unopened. If I did lose my pension, I’d still be okay.
“What was that all about Birt?” my wife asked as the truck with the cupboard drove up the street. She is an excellent copper’s wife — she stayed out of the way until I could explain to her in private. I know she wondered why other police families had boats and holiday houses and trips overseas while we chugged along on the basics, but she never complained — not once.
“A bunch of blokes who made my life a misery are about to get theirs, and I’m the one who is nailing the coffin lids shut.”
She knew there was more to it than that and she knew I would tell her most of it. We’d lie in bed and I’d unfold it for her. She’ll understand. Keeping secrets is part of the job, but not telling her — my best friend — all these years has been difficult. I’ve always tried to ‘not bring the job home with me’, but this was different. I wanted her to be genuinely shocked by the discovery of all that money if my plan went south. She’s put up with a lot during my career and I was not going to let these arseholes drag her down with me. The next few days will see if the brass sticks to our deal, but I’m not going to lose any sleep. Our new life starts today.
“I think it’s time to break out that bottle of bubbly that your sister gave us, but before we do that, there’s something in the shed I’d like to show you. I think you’re going to enjoy this sweetheart.”