Of the three cars that had gone by in the past hour, none had been exceeding the speed limit to such an extent that Danny was bothered to pull them over and issue a speeding fine. He pointed his speed-radar-gun aimlessly around the deserted roadside. He locked onto a tree caught in the breeze –Danny clocked the moving branches at six kilometres per hour. A rustling sound came from the bushes a hundred metres away. A feral cat bounded out from the underbrush and Danny locked it in the radar –twenty-eight kilometres per hour. He ran fingers through a short crop of dirty-blonde hair and leaned back against his police cruiser. The on-board radio crackled.
“Constable Holt. Constable Holt, come in.” It was the station’s receptionist, Holly. Of the few blonde women Danny knew, Holly was the only one who lived impeccably up to the stereotype her hair colour held.
Danny picked up the two-way speaker, “Holt here. What’s up, Holly?”
“You need to go out to the Harrison’s place, on Millstream Parade. Do a welfare check on some bloke who didn’t come in to work, or something.”
Glad for the reprieve from highway patrol, Danny eagerly asked, “What number is it?”
“What is the house number, Holly?” Danny was frequently annoyed by Holly’s fecklessness, and on this occasion it was evident in his replying tone.
“Oh. Umm… number forty-eight, I think. Let me check.” Danny could hear Holly flicking through the mess on her desk while he silently waited for her to find the scrap of note paper she had scribbled the information on. “Sorry Danny, I had it backward. It’s eighty-four.”
“What’s the name?”
“Yes, Holly. The name of the welfare check.”
“Oh, of course,” Holly gave a nervous giggle. “Umm, John, John Harrison.”
“Thanks Holly,” Danny made a forced effort to sound grateful. “I’ll head out there now.”
Being the small town that it was, most everyone in Ravenshoe knew one another. Though Danny only moved back to his hometown less than a year ago, many of the same faces remained, and it hadn’t taken long for him to become familiar with a lot of the new ones. Danny knew John Harrison, had a beer with him only a few days ago, had never been to his house though.
Pulling his cruiser alongside a garden bed in the front of the Harrison’s house, Danny examined his surroundings. It’d been dark about half an hour before the last car came by during his highway-patrolling. Now, standing in the driveway of the Harrison house, the darkness of the fallen night seemed somehow ominous. No light radiated from the windows of the white-clad farmhouse, and an eerie hush seemed to abound. The only sounds were the leaves of the surrounding blue-gums rustling on a slight breeze, a hoot from an owl somewhere above Danny’s head, and a couple of crickets chirping in the damp grass, which quickly ceased their night-song when Danny’s boots crunched into the gravel of the driveway.
Clearing the three short steps up to the patio in a single stride, Danny kept a keen eye as he approached the door. With a heavy hand, he knocked –five hard thumps. No sound from inside. Danny knocked again, louder, and called out, “Hello, John? It’s Danny.” Knocked again. “John?” There were no signs of the home’s occupants. He took hold of the door handle and gave it a twist. It gave way –not locked. That wasn’t unusual for the small-town community. A shiver scaled the height of Danny’s spine anyway, and settled, cold and unforgiving, in the curve on the back of his neck.
Stepping through the door, hyper aware that he was stepping into an unknown situation –the chance of it being dangerous was slim around here, but it was still a chance– Danny drew his weapon from its holster and gripped it tightly in a shaky hand, his torch in the other, just as he’d been taught during the twenty-four weeks of AFP training before taking up his post here. He had been lucky that his preferred location was a remote one, where not a lot of recruits want to be, but where the AFP likes to send them. His soliciting a station to Ravenshoe hadn’t been questioned, but applauded.
As he made his way a short distance down the hall and edged around the arched entrance to the kitchen, he continued to announce himself, “John. Hello. It’s Danny… ah, the police. Anyone home?” He shone his torch around the kitchen –empty. Danny turned around, toward the living room. “John? This is the police. We got a call from your boss.” No one in the living room either. Danny eased slowly down the hallway, toward the bedrooms, keeping his back to the wall and shining his torch ahead of him. “John, are you here? Hello? Anyone home?” The first bedroom was empty.
Danny shone his torch into the second room as he carefully rounded the doorway. The room stank of rust and faeces. On a bed of bloody linen lay a young man, his naked body riddled with neat gashes that had long ceased oozing onto the white sheets. The blood had turned from the crimson red of a fresh wound, to a dark maroon, almost black.
Danny gagged, and a surge of vomit seared the back of his throat. He swallowed it back down and took a step toward the sliced-and-diced corpse. The uninhabited eyes that stared up at him as Danny leaned over the defunct cadaver belonged to a man not much younger than himself –twenty, maybe twenty-one. John was home. The physical part of him that is.
There was nothing intimidating about the dead man –maybe because he was dead. Still, Danny was not prepared for this. He swallowed back another swell of vomit as he backed out of the room. Danny tried to remember what his training called for in this situation. This was clearly a murder. Danny recalled a rather stern lecture about not disturbing the crime scene, or when the CIB guys show up you’ll be handed your ass on a platter.
“Leave the scene unchanged and call the CIB,” Danny chanted quietly to himself as he retreated quickly, gratefully. He had every excuse in the world to trace his steps backward, out of that room, and leave the investigations to someone more experienced, someone stronger of stomach than he. Shaking himself free from the stench of death and faeces, or death resulting in faeces, Danny grabbed some police tape from the boot of his cruiser and strung it across the front door, climbed into front of the cruiser and began relaying his message to the police dispatch.
“I have a 1.4… I have a dead body. That welfare check is now a confirmed deceased. Blood, guts, the whole works. Looks like something from a Stephen King novel.” Shock and inexperience rendered Danny slightly incompetent of his duties, and completely amnesic of protocol.
The voice that came back from dispatch was a weak, garbled sound of pure laziness. “Is that you, Constable Holt? What do mean ‘dead body’? Was there a car accident?” It was reasonable to assume Holly had forgotten the call she’d made to Danny only an hour ago. It was also reasonable to assume that Holly was more incompetent than Danny himself felt at that moment.
“Not a car accident. A murder. Call the Atherton CIB, Holly. This is their jurisdiction. Tell them to send some detectives. I’m heading back to the station now.”
Detective Brad Jensen was on a call with his sometimes-petulant life-partner, James. They had been together six years and James’s clingy nature had escalated to unbearable levels since Brad had requested a transfer from their home in Brisbane to the Atherton CIB in order to be closer to his emotionally troubled sister, Amanda.
“I really don’t care whether we holiday in Fiji or at the Blue Mountains, or if we holiday at all for that matter,” Brad spoke down the phone to the man he was in love with, but was growing increasingly exasperated of. “I would be just as happy with two weeks curled up on the couch with you, watching DVDs. Book the holiday you want and I will be happy with it, I promise.”
“Skiing it is,” the excited voice replied from the other end of the phone.
“I have to go. Detective Willis is standing in my doorway looking like his cat just died.”
“Okay, Honey. See you at home tonight. I love you,” James cooed.
“Yeah, you too.”
Although Brad had been open with his sexuality for many years now, he still didn’t feel comfortable rubbing his gayness in the faces of his colleagues. He felt that affectionate displays toward his male lover would be construed as a sign of weakness, or at the very least, a reminder that he was different. In fact, he felt all public displays of affection to be a sign of weakness. His own father had never been an affectionate man. The beatings his father had given his mother, his sister and himself were the main reason his sister was so troubled, and had been dependant on mood-stabilizers and anti-psychotics since the age of twelve. Brad’s mother always copped the worst of their father’s wrath, and when Brad was thirteen and Amanda was eight their mother couldn’t stand it any longer and left them to be raised by their abusive father. Brad knew it was the hardest thing his mother ever did, though he never understood why she didn’t take them with her. He forgave her nonetheless. Brad even forgave his father for the abuse inflicted on him, but not for what he had done to his mother, and especially not for what he had done to Amanda. Amanda never stopped loving him, and she never stopped hating him for the abuse she had endured at his hand. She seemed stable these days, but Brad didn’t trust the drugs, or the doctors, so he applied for the transfer and convinced James they would be happier here in Atherton. So far it seemed he was wrong. James never seemed to be happy.
“Afternoon, Detective,” Brad addressed Detective Willis after hanging up the phone. “You look like your favourite footy team just lost. What’s up?”
“Get your dancin’ shoes on. Suspected homicide in Ravenshoe. Let’s go.”
Danny attempted to avoid Holly’s eager glare as he entered the station. She was always so keen to impress, to no avail when it came to Danny.
“Two guys from the CIB Homicide Unit will be here in half an hour. I called them as soon as you told me to.” Holly was clearly proud of herself, for no particular reason.
“Thanks, Holly. Send them in the moment they arrive.” Danny slunk past the gauche receptionist as he spoke and flung his office door closed behind him.
Half an hour later, almost to the minute, two men in pressed suits barged into Danny’s office. With a startle, Danny looked up from the paperwork he was pretending to fill out, but was doodling on. His pen dropped to the page in front of him with an audible clack. One of the suited men, the man who entered first, almost had to duck to fit through the door. His skin was the colour of coffee and smooth as silk. The second man, a pale guy whose pallid blue-grey eyes were too close together, seemed short in comparison. Though, when Danny stood to greet them, the shorter of the two men was still four inches taller than himself.
“Gentlemen, what can I do for you?” As soon as the words escaped Danny’s lips he knew it had been a stupid question under the circumstances, and flushed red from the clumsy address of the two professionals.
“I think it’s more a case of what we can do for you, Constable. You called us here for a suspected homicide?” The taller, dark-skinned Detective stepped forward and offered Danny his hand. “I’m Detective Rodney Willis, and this is Detective Brad Jensen.” Detective Willis shook Danny’s hand firmly. “Where’s your Sergeant?”
“Wayne went home at four. His shift was over.”
“Well call him back,” the shorter detective spoke with a sharp tone. “Shifts don’t mean squat when you have a suspected homicide to deal with.” Detective Brad Jensen was incensed by Danny’s lack of ceremony. “And, don’t you call your superiors by their titles around here?” He shook his head and mumbled under his breath, “No respect.”
Danny swallowed his impotence and hardened his eyes at Brad Jensen, “You’re the boss, Detective.” He picked up the phone and dialled.
“Hi, Wayne. Sorry to call you at home. We have a bit of a situation and I need you to come back down to the station.”
A low grumble of discontent sounded on the other end of phone. Detective Willis interrupted swiftly, “Tell him to meet us at the crime scene.”
Sergeant Wayne Barlow, startled, barked at his constable, “Crime scene? Did I hear someone say crime scene?”
“Yes, Sir. There has been a murder. Can you meet us at the Harrison’s place, out on Millstream Parade?” After an urgently concerned agreement from the Sergeant, Danny hung up the phone and turned to Detective Willis, “I guess we should head out. Wayne will be there directly.”
The two Detectives nodded. “After you,” Willis replied, with a sweeping gesture toward Danny’s office door.
When Danny pulled up in the short –short for this semi-rural area– hundred-metre-long driveway, followed by Detectives Rodney Willis and Brad Jensen in an unmarked silver Commodore, he saw that Sergeant Barlow had beaten them there. The police four-wheel-drive, which Sergeant Wayne Barlow drove, was parked at an unnecessarily obscure angel to the Harrison home.
The memory of vomit lingered in the back of Danny’s throat as he disembarked his vehicle. Only a couple of months on the job and already Danny questioned his ability –perhaps he wasn’t cut out for the police force. But this was his job. And if he quit now, because of a case of weak-stomach, he would be unable to fulfil the principle goal behind his pursuit of this station.
He reminded himself that his skin would thicken in time, these scenes would become less shocking with experience. In time he would be able to desensitize himself against dead bodies, and murder, and the reality of evil doers –Danny did not identify himself among the villainous of the world. Perhaps he would be become apathetic. He chose this career for many reasons –among others, helping people was one of them. In order to do his job properly, he would have to learn to care less about the people he was bound to protect.
Danny’s contemplation was interrupted by a gravelly voice. “There’s been a murder alright. Poor young fellow looks like Swiss cheese.” Danny looked up to see the stout figure of his sergeant exiting the house. The sergeant’s eyes were wide with horror, exposing the bloodshot whites around his chocolate irises, yet his tone and expression were stoic, revealing no clue as to whether he had known the dead man or was merely staggered by such a violent death in his quiet town.
“I hope you haven’t compromised our crime scene, Sergeant.” The petulant Detective Brad Jensen sounded none too pleased that Wayne had been inside.
“Calm your jets mate. I’m not an idiot. And who says it’s your crime scene?” The sergeant was in no way hostile, but he wasn’t going to have some ego-charged out-of-towner condescend him without even the courtesy of an introduction.
Rodney stepped forward and offered an apologetic hand, “I’m Detective Willis. This is detective Jensen,” he said.
Detective Jensen offered no hand, instead reaching immediately into his pocket for proof of his jurisdiction.
After the handshaking and badge-checking was done, the four men entered the house. Danny trailed, letting the three more experienced men take the lead.
“Haven’t had a murder in this town for going on five years.” Wayne was thinking out loud and didn’t hope for a response. “And even then it was one druggie shot another druggie over a bad deal. I never saw anything like this in Ravenshoe before.” Danny stared at Wayne momentarily, trying to read between the lines of what his sergeant was saying. While Danny himself had a mix of cautious-excitement, brought about by adrenalin, and nauseating-horror, caused by the gruesomeness of the situation, painted on his face, there was nothing in Wayne’s expression that gave indication of his emotional state.
The Detectives entered the bedroom. They looked around a little while Danny and Wayne waited by the door, each of them leaning against a side of the doorjamb, watching the detectives do their job.
Detective Willis turned to them and asked, “Did either of you touch anything?” Both Danny and the sergeant shook their heads. “Good! You were first on the scene, Constable?”
Danny nodded, “Yes.”
“Did you conduct any form of search before you returned to the station?”
“No, Sir. I was worried about disturbing the crime scene.” Danny responded, “Was that wrong?”
Detective Brad Jensen scoffed and rolled his eyes before Detective Willis answered, “That’s fine. But you should not have left the scene. The perp. could have been close by, or returned in your absence to remove evidence. In future you need to call for backup and wait at the scene.”
“In future?” As he said it, Danny noticed how naive it sounded.
Ignoring Danny’s rhetorical comment, Detective Willis asked, “Did you see anything that you might have thought was a murder weapon?”
Danny took a few steps toward the bloody body and looked around, “No. I didn’t really look for long. Everything seems the same, though.”
“Okay. For now we’ll assume the scene has not been tampered with since you were called out this evening.” Detective Willis scrawled something in his notebook, “Do any of you blokes know what cloture means?”
“Fence,” Danny blurted, without thinking. “It’s French for fence. Why?” The three other men looked at Danny with curiosity. “What? I studied foreign languages at Canberra University before I joined the Academy.”
Sergeant Wayne Barlow and Detective Brad Jensen kept confounded eyes trained on Danny while Detective Willis shook away his own puzzlement to again scribble in his notebook why he replied to Danny’s first single-word question of why. “The word is carved into the dead guy’s forehead.”
Danny took a few furtive steps toward the body on the bed and craned his neck to see the deep cuts on the young man’s face. Gaping open and crusted over with blood, the word engraved in the young man’s head jumped out at Danny. CLOTURE.
Blinking, looking away from Danny to the body with countless, russet peepholes cleaved in its stiff flesh, Wayne asked, “What do you suppose the killer means by fence?”
“I don’t know, but we need to call in some forensic specialists,” Detective Willis answered. “Someone will have to stay at the scene until they arrive.” His gaze fixed on Danny. “You can stay outside if you prefer.”
The sergeant put a tentative hand on Danny’s shoulder, “You’ll be right mate. Death is just a part of life.” Wayne turned to the Detectives, “You blokes do what you gotta. Danny’ll hang out here, and I’ll go see if I can get hold of the family –someone’s gotta tell ‘em.”
“You might want to hold off on that for a while, Sergeant. The last thing we need is a hysterical mother barging past your incompetent Constable here.” Detective Jensen inclined his head toward Danny as he spoke.
“I might be incompetent, but I can learn. You’ll always be an Ass,” Danny snapped.
“Boys, put your rulers away. We’re all on the same side here,” Wayne said.
Detective Willis shot a heated glare at Brad Jensen, “The sergeant is right, Brad. There’s no need for childish name calling. We’re here to do a job and the constable hasn’t done anything unforgivable.”
Brad Jensen grunted, puffed out his deep chest and headed outside to the gleaming sedan he and Rodney Willis had arrived in, “Well, let’s go. The sooner forensics gets here, the sooner we can get this case underway.” From the look on the Detective’s face, Danny knew what Detective Jensen had really wanted to say was, ‘the sooner we can get out of here.’
Back at the station Wayne gave Holly the names of the young victim’s family and told her just to look them up for now, and to let the Detectives have access to whatever resources they needed then headed back to the house to wait with Danny.
When Wayne returned to the house, Danny was leaning against his vehicle fidgeting with his phone, trying to decide if he should call his wife, Melissa, and let her know why he would be late home tonight –or if that was even allowed.
“How ya holdin’ up?” The sergeant called as he climbed out of his vehicle. “The young fella’s ghost hasn’t been harassing ya, has it?”
“What?” Danny looked up from his phone, “No. Not yet. It’s a pretty horrid scene in there. Didn’t think I’d see anything like that so soon on the job. Did you know him? The victim… John, I mean.”
Wayne hung his head, and shook it a little as he answered, as if he didn’t want to admit that this young man had an identity at all, “Johnnie. Johnnie Harrison. He’s a… he was a bright young fella. A lot of prospects that young bloke had.” Wayne shook his head again. It seemed to be the only reaction he had to this tragic waste of such a promising life, “Linda and Dave’s son. He was headed somewhere –you know, somewhere big. He could have been something. Something more than what you see around here –drinking and dead ends.” It was clear to Danny that the sergeant had some connection to this family… or maybe it was just the small town thing, and Wayne was anticipating the grief the whole town would feel upon the news of his untimely demise.
Registering the emotion his boss was desperately trying to suppress, Danny made an offer that he might later regret, “I’ll tell the family when the time comes. If you like?” Trying to find a reason for his offer, without letting his boss know he could see through the chinks in his armour, Danny added, “It might be easier coming from someone they don’t know so well –no pity, you know?” He began to ramble. “Well, I knew him, and the family, but not so well. And if you’re having a hard time with it…”
Wayne was uncomfortable with the maudlin direction the conversation was headed. He changed the subject to something more emotionally manageable, “What kinda music ya got on that fancy phone?”
“Oh. Umm. All sorts of stuff. But I wasn’t listening to music when you pulled up. I was trying to decide how to tell Melissa I am going to be home late tonight.”
“Just tell her the truth,” Wayne replied, very mater-of-fact.
“But I can’t really tell her the whole truth, can I? I thought this kind of thing had to stay under-wraps until the family is informed?”
“You just tell your wife there has been a very tragic accident and you will be home late, you will explain when you can.” Again, the sergeant spoke with a business-like tone –odd for the usually animated Wayne.
Danny wasn’t so willing to give up on the subject. “You know the victim’s family well?”
“They’ll get through it. A strong family, them Harrisons,” Wayne answered curtly.
“You close with his parents?” Danny pressed.
“Yeah. So what? I’ve been on the job here going on thirty years. I know everyone in this Godforsaken town. You should know, you grew up here.” Wayne’s face turned a slight red as he spoke. It was clear Danny had pushed the sergeant far enough.
“Sorry, Sir. I didn’t mean to offend, just trying to pass the time, you know?”
“It’s okay, Danny.” Wayne’s bushy brow furrowed over the deep set eyes in his dark face, and he quickly changed the subject, “When are you going to bring that pretty young wife of yours around for dinner? Judy’s been nagging me about it –any chance for her to show off her cooking skills.”
Danny blinked and glanced at his phone. “Saturday, I guess. I’ll run it by Melissa, make sure she doesn’t have other plans. So, what is your wife going to make?” Danny didn’t really care what he would be eating on the night, he merely wanted to assuage Wayne’s apparent desire for vapid conversation.
Wayne informed Danny that Judy would be making her famous roast chicken stuffed with lime and hot peppers, and a custard tart for dessert. From the very specific answer Wayne gave, Danny surmised that Judy must have given their proposed dinner date a lot of thought and he resolved that he would be sure to oblige the invitation.
With nothing more to say on the subject, Danny and Wayne stood in silence for a long while, waiting for the two Detectives to return with their entourage. When finally they heard the sound of rubber crunching on gravel as three dark vehicles followed the silver Commodore along the serpentine driveway, Wayne peeled himself from the side of the cruiser, stretched out his limbs and said, “Looks like the cavalry has arrived.”
“Awesome. Another chance to converse with the charming Detective Jensen,” Danny replied sarcastically.
The detectives returned to the scene at the Harrison’s place accompanied by two of their colleagues and a swarm of forensic analysts: a blood splatter expert; an evidence recovery specialist; a crime scene photographer, and a few others whose titles Danny had forgotten the moment he’d heard them.
With the team of experts on scene, Detective Willis sent Wayne to canvass the surrounding properties for possible witnesses, and requested Danny return to the unmanned station. Danny willingly obliged.
Back at the station, glad for the respite from crime scene duties, Danny sat staring at the wall, trying to decide what to tell Melissa. After a long moment of contemplation, or perhaps it was more closely related to procrastination, Danny picked up his phone and dialled.
“Hello, Holt residence. Melissa speaking,” Melissa’s voice chimed through the handset after the second ring. Danny felt instantly calmer.
“Hey, Babe. It’s me.”
“Danny? Is everything okay? You sound a little… off.” Melissa could read him like a book, even when the only thing she had to go on was his voice.
“There’s been a, umm… there’s been an incident. I’ll explain when I get home, but I’m going to be a bit late.” Danny decided it would be best to save the details for a face to face conversation, that way his wife wouldn’t be alone when she heard that there was a killer roaming the streets in their town.
“What kind of incident?” Melissa sounded worried –not as worried as she would be had it not been her husband on the other end of the phone.
“Nothing for you to concern yourself with, Darling. Just keep my side of the bed warm, and I’ll be home as soon as I can.”
“Alright, Sweetie. I’ll put your dinner in the fridge. You can reheat it when you get home.”
“Thanks Mel. I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
Melissa held the now-dead receiver in her hand for a moment before placing it back in its cradle. Something in her husband’s voice told her that this incident was something very serious. They may have been married only a few months but they had known each other seven years, and Melissa could interpret the inflection in Danny’s voice with ease.
She replaced the receiver and returned to preparing dinner, while short lengths of rope began to tie little knots in her stomach.
Danny got home at 2am after a long debrief with Sergeant Barlow and a gaggle of detectives. It turned out none of the neighbours had any useful information –one neighbour had said she hadn’t seen his car leave the property in the past three days, which could prove to be of consequence at some stage, but not yet– everyone had only praise for the victim. So, no apparent motive. There was no murder weapon, no finger prints, and soon enough they would know if any of the evidence collected contained traces of DNA. At first glance this was not looking like an open-shut case. It was going to be a long road for the detectives solving this murder, and a turbulent time for Danny Holt and Wayne Barlow attempting to keep the small town from potentially damaging speculation and panic in the meantime.
At the front door Danny doffed his shoes and made his way down the hall to the bedroom where Melissa lay sleeping. Danny paused by the bed momentarily, taking in his wife’s serine demeanour –her soft skin, devoid of all tension, and her orange lochs splayed across the pillow in a delicate fan of gossamer fireworks.
After a quick shower, Danny climbed into bed beside his peaceful bride and kissed her lightly on the cheek. Melissa stirred. Her eyes remained closed as she rolled toward Danny with puckered lips. Danny obliged her silent request, applying his tender affections to her waiting mouth.
“What time is it?” Melissa mumbled through heavy sleep that still weighed her mind and her voice.
“A little after two. Go back to sleep, Babe.”
“But I want to know what happened,” Melissa’s protest was feeble. Her eyes still hadn’t opened and her voice was no more than a whisper.
“We can talk in the morning,” Danny kissed his wife again. Her mouth fell open ever so slightly as she gave in and descended quickly back to a peaceful dream of her and Danny by a cool stream, with two small children playing by their feet.
Detective Jensen had laid claim to Danny’s desk as soon as Danny left the station. After calling the Homicide Squad from Danny’s private line, he sat at the desk, filling out the Notice of Death report, with pompous thoughts of his superiority over the young constable.
He heard the phone ring in reception, and he heard Holly answer it. She chatted cheerily for a long time before putting the call through to Jensen. It was James.
“You were awfully friendly with the receptionist. Should I be jealous?”
“Well hello to you too,” James responded with feigned insult. “I’ve been friends with Holly for ages. She and I met at the International Club here in Atherton. Turns out she doesn’t like to go out in Ravenshoe –too many prying eyes, if you know what I mean.” James gave a little giggle.
“You’re such a gossip monger, James.”
As it turned out James didn’t have anything pressing to discuss, he just missed Brad and wanted to hear his voice. After the phone call, Jensen’s thoughts drifted from James to the reason the two of them had moved to the rural area –his sister, Amanda. His sister had had a hard life. A traumatic upbringing filled with the brutal beatings by a father who drove their mother away, and, after moving to Atherton at the tender age of seventeen, entered into a relationship with a young man whom she’d thought was the picture of a perfect boyfriend, until he shot dead a veteran cop and was sent up for five years in the pen. He would have gotten a longer sentence but he was sixteen and so tried as a minor. Amanda had a nervous breakdown after that, and spent eighteen months in a locked facility. She was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The combination of medications she was on now seemed to be working well. Amanda had held down a job at the Respite Centre for the Physically Disabled in Atherton for almost two years. She was renting a nice apartment and had made lots of friends in the town. None of that stopped Brad from worrying about his baby sister though. James was convinced she was fine, that they’d moved here for nothing more than Brad’s piece of mind. But Brad had never wanted to let his sister stay too far from him, not after what she had endured. He felt it was his duty to protect her now the way he couldn’t do as a child, and how could he do that if she was a thousand miles away?
Jensen scrawled the date in the box provided and signed his name at the bottom of the Notice of Death as his thoughts wandered back over James’s reaction to their move from the big city to the sticks. James had been very clear about not wanting to leave the city. “You can’t be serious,” he’d said. “You can’t expect me to leave all of my friends, my job, my shopping, and move to a backward small-town that will never accept our way of life, just because your sister has some emotional troubles. She’s on medication, right? And it’s working?”
“That’s hardly the point, Honey,” Brad had said.
“How long has it been since she had her little freak-out?”
“A few years, but…” Brad hadn’t been able to finish his sentence.
“See! She’s fine without you. And if she really needs you it’s only a two hour flight to get there. And we can stay here, free to shop and free from the ridicule of redneck country-folk.”
“I have to be close. Please understand James, I never stood up to our father when he beat her. And her boyfriend is due to be released next year. I need to be available for her. And if that means moving half way across the world, I would do it. I only hope that you love me enough to understand that, and come with me. I really don’t want to do it without you, but if I have to, I will.”
As Brad recalled the onerous memory, he realised how grateful he was that James had chosen to come with him when his transfer was approved. And how he needed to cut James some slack –he had sacrificed a lot for the sake of their relationship, and his need to control the little things in their life was James’s consolation. Brad decided that he would take James somewhere this weekend, anywhere he wanted to go.
He handed his paperwork to Rodney as he left the station with a smile on his face.
In the morning Danny woke at 6:45 to the sound of his alarm and the smell of bacon. Descending the stairs the aroma set his mouth to salivate and his stomach to growl. Danny hadn’t realised how hungry he was after skipping dinner the previous night. In the kitchen, in her silk nightgown, Melissa was plating Danny’s breakfast. Ever the attentive wife, she placed the bacon-and-egg breakfast on the table, poured a glass of OJ and proceeded to fix her own breakfast of high-fibre cereal.
Danny reached his arms around her waist from behind, whispered in her ear, “Thanks for breaky, Honey,” and kissed her lightly on the cheek.
At the table, both enjoying their respective meals, Melissa turned to Danny and asked, “So, are you going to tell me what happened last night?”
“Ah, I see. That’s how it’s gonna be. You’re using this delicious spread to butter me up for info.”
“Never. Can’t a loving wife make her darling husband a hearty meal for his long day at work?” Melissa’s cheeky grin and her emphasis on the endearing titles made her sarcasm abundantly clear.
“There was a murder.” Danny watched Melissa’s face for fear. All he saw was alarm.
“That’s terrible news. Was it anyone we know?”
“I knew him, a little. He saved me from a very insistent pursuer at the pub the other night. He was a young guy from just outside of town. Johnnie Harrison. Wayne knew him, pretty well I think. Once word gets out the whole town is going to be on edge until we catch the guy responsible.” Danny paused. “Umm, I brought home a tin of pepper-spray for you. I want you to keep it handy at all times.” Their light breakfast banter had quickly turned serious and Danny could see the fear that he had initially expected starting to creep across his wife’s face. “It’s just a precaution. Most murders are crimes of passion, perpetrated by someone close to the victim. There is no reason to think this is anything else. Like I said, just a precaution. Better to be safe than sorry.”
“Okay.” Melissa’s voice was a little tense. She hadn’t thought to be afraid for her own life until Danny offered her the pepper-spray. If her husband was afraid for her, she guessed maybe she be afraid too. They finished their meals in silence.
Her hands deep in soapy dishwater, a light breeze brushed Melissa’s nightgown against her thigh. Danny measured her beauty, and decided it was Shakespearean. Melissa didn’t see Danny approach the sink after shovelling the last piece of bacon into his mouth, and started at the unexpected touch as he wrapped an arm around her waist. Danny slid his plate through the bubbles and let it lull to the steely bottom. He kissed his wife on the shoulder and whispered, “I’ll never let anything happen to you.”
“Do you have any suspects?”
“It’s too soon for that. The victim seems to have been a lovable guy. We have no idea about motive yet.”
Melissa turned to face Danny. “Sometimes the most lovable people are the ones with the most skeletons in their closets.” She kissed the edge of his jaw then pushed him away, “Now, you get off to work and catch that killer. I’ve got to be at the Community Centre in an hour –we’re hosting an employment workshop for indigenous residents today, then I have a committee meeting at the golf course at 3:30 this afternoon. I have to come up with the theme for this year’s charity fundraiser. Any ideas?”
“How about ‘Guys and Dolls’, or Casablanca?” Danny slapped Melissa’s firm ass before turning toward the stairs and glancing back over his shoulder at her.
After a quick shower Danny donned his uniform and headed out of the front door. Melissa caught his arm from behind as he opened the door, “Be careful out there,” she said and brushed her lips against his cheek.
“No worries,” Danny smiled. “I’m a big bad cop, remember?” He winked and threw his wife backward in a swooping dip, kissing her passionately while she hung from his arms. Standing her up, he walked out the door and called back over his shoulder, “We’re having dinner with Wayne and Judy on Saturday night,” then closed the door before Melissa could respond, or protest.
When Danny arrived at the station it was no longer crawling with detectives. They had taken what they needed and returned to Atherton. To Danny’s dismay the only detective to stay behind was Brad Jensen.
“You’ll be coming with me, Constable,” Jensen said as Danny tried, without success, to get to his office unnoticed. “We’re collecting statements.”
“Just peachy,” Danny mumbled under his breath.
“Did you say something, Constable?” Jensen had a look on his face like a Jackal –a joy at the thought of devouring his prey. And Danny was a fit meal.
“Nothing at all, Detective. Where do we start?” Danny smiled from ear to ear, as if to say, ‘bring it on Big Town. You don’t scar me’. Truth be told, Danny was more than intimidated by Jensen’s bravado, but he’d be damned if he was going to let Jensen know it.
“The victim’s Parents are out of the country. We contacted them after you went home and tucked yourself in your warm bed last night,” Jensen waited for Danny to snap back with a pithy retort. When Danny managed to retain a reposeful poise, despite wanting to slug Jensen in his smug face, Jensen continued, “They took the first flight out of Italy and will be arriving some time tonight. In the meantime, there is a sister we can talk to and several friends, as well as his employer.”
Danny smiled a reproachful smile, “Who do you want to talk to first, Detective? I’m at your service, Sir.” Normally saying ‘Sir’ to a man like Jensen would have left a bitter taste in Danny’s mouth, but he said it with such derision that it actually tasted sweet.
“The sister, of course. Didn’t you learn anything at the academy? The family are always the first people you speak to. And the first suspects.”
Danny realised that his disdain for Jensen had been a little too clear and he would have to tone it down. “I’m sure I learnt enough. Lead the way, Detective.” Surrender to Jensen didn’t sit well with Danny, but he was his superior and Danny would just have to suck it up. He did wish that the other detective, that Willis guy, had been the one to stay. He was a man Danny could look up to, could respect.
The victim’s sister was a slight woman –barely a woman at only nineteen. She lived in the upstairs apartment of one of the only two apartment buildings in town, with her boyfriend, Matthew. The tattooed young man answered the door shirtless, with a smoke in one hand and a tin of rum in the other.
“Are you here because of the party we had last night? We turned the music down at ten and kicked everyone out at eleven. Clair and I were in bed before midnight. If anyone has any complaints they are unfounded.” The young man’s articulation seemed unfitting to his gruff, tattooed exterior.
“We’re not here for a noise complaint. We need to speak to Clair. Is she home?” Jensen was as warm as ever in his approach. Which was cold as ice.
Danny decided to play Good Cop, since it was clear the role Jensen had taken. “There has been… an incident. It’s a family matter and we need to speak with Clair. Is she home?”
Jensen shot Danny a look of contempt. The young man ignored him and spoke directly to Danny. “I’m sorry. Where are my manners? My name is Matthew, but you can call me Matt.” He held his hand out and Danny shook it.
“Constable Holt, but you can call me Danny.”
Matt extended the same courtesy to Jensen. Jensen shook the young man’s hand stiffly, “I’m detective Jensen. Is Clair home, Matthew.” Jensen made a point of using Matt’s full name.
Matt was unperturbed by Jensen’s hostility. “She’s in bed. I’ll go wake her. You’re welcome to wait inside, Mate.” Matt directed the contentious ‘mate’ at Jensen while gesturing for them both to enter his home.
Jensen pushed past Matt and darted his eyes around as if he might find something incriminating. Danny followed matt through the front door that opened out to the living room. In the living room was a lavish lounge suit, a sixty-something inch TV and all the gaming machines a young bloke could ask for –PS3, PS4, X-box 360, X-box1 and a Nintendo WiiU. The room was adorned with dark velvet drapes, bookcases full of books, and countless ornamental daggers and dragons. Looking at the frames filled with photos of family, friends and adventures –pictures of Matt sky-diving, mountain-climbing, on trips to exotic locals– Danny wondered momentarily if Matt was a well-educated Pot-dealer, or if Matt had a legitimate income to pay for such things.
As if seeing the questions in Danny’s assessment, Matt said, “Mining is a good living: every second week off; long holidays; great pay. I’m the youngest civil-engineer in the industry. I earn more in a month than you blokes see in a year. Some people call me a genius. I call it hard work.” Matt left Danny and Jensen in the living room. “Clair! There’s a couple of cops here to talk to you,” he called as he headed toward one of the closed doors leading off the living room.
Clair ducked her head out from the bedroom door, looking tired and dishevelled. “I’ll be with you in a minute. Just let me get changed.” She closed the door again.
Danny couldn’t help but notice the tattoo on her breast, visible enough from the spaghetti-strap night shirt she wore to see that she believed she would be with ‘Matt Forever’.
When Clair emerged, fully clothed, Jensen introduced himself. “Clair? Hi. I’m detective Jensen, and this is Constable Holt.” He even managed to say Holt’s name without contempt, “I have some sad news for you. Please sit down.”
Clair’s vivacious smile turned to an expression of caution and worry, “What’s wrong? Oh Lord, someone’s dead aren’t they? Is it my parents? I told them I had a bad feeling about this trip.”
“Your parents are fine,” Danny spoke with a comforting tone, and put a hand on Clair’s wrist.
“Yes, your parents are fine,” Jensen gave Danny a look that made him retract his hand quickly from Clair’s. “It’s your brother, John. He’s been murdered. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but we need to ask you some questions.” Danny doubted that Jensen was sorry at all.
Clair stood up, her eyes searching for her boyfriend. He was already there. Matt wrapped his arms around his girlfriend and pulled her tight to his chest. “How sure are you that it was murder?” he asked.
“We’re very sure. Do you think you can answer some questions about your brother, Clair?” Danny asked. “It might be useful for you to answer what you can as well, Matt.” Danny glanced at Jensen, “Do you think, Detective?”
“Yes. The more we know about John, the better equipped we’ll be to find a motive and, ultimately, his killer.”
Matt held onto Clair for a long moment, in silence. Then he said, “Do you think you could talk to me first? I think Clair needs a moment.”
Danny looked at Jensen. Jensen looked at the distressed young woman and answered, “If you prefer,” in his usual borderline-arrogant tone.
“I prefer,” replied Matt, with an expression of scorn.
The conversation with Matt and Clair uncovered a possible motive –apparently John had been dating a woman by the name of Tara, and sleeping with a woman by the name of Kyrie, and Kyrie was married to a man named Travis. Tara and Travis were now the prime suspects –if Tara had discovered her boyfriend’s betrayal she might have killed him; if Travis had discovered that John was cutting his grass he might have killed him. Jealousy and money are the most primitive and most powerful incentives for murder.
Rodger sat sprawled across his lounge suite, wearing nothing but boxer-shorts, holding the scotch his mistress had poured him before she left the room to take a phone call. His flabby belly folded over the top of his boxers so that the label on the front of the waistband was completely swallowed by his excess fat. While he waited for his mistress, Ava, to return, Rodger stroked the hair on his chest, following the fur-like curls all the way down from his nipples to where they disappeared into the folds of underwear and sweaty blubber.
He was quite proud of having landed a hot mistress like Ava. Not many women looked at Rodger like he was much of anything. His wife was the only woman who’d ever thought he was worth a damn, but she wasn’t anything special herself –a round woman with flat hair, a mono-brow, and sagging boobs and stretchmarks from the four children she bore him. A good woman. Not a gorgeous woman. Rodger had always dreamed that one day a woman with lustrous blonde hair, bright eyes, and a thin waist that curved pleasantly out to a tight ass and up to perky breasts would share a bed with him, but he never thought his dream would come true.
Lifting his glass to his mouth, Rodger took another swig of scotch while he scratched his balls with the other hand. Ava would be back any second to scratch all of his other itches. Not only was she beautiful, but she was an amazing lover. He had never known such intense passion. There was something in her love-making that was innocent and raw, and something else that was tawdry and dirty –the kind of nasty that most men only fantasise about. Be that it only begun this evening, still, Rodger was living it.
Ava had been attending to her important call for a long time.
“Ava! I’m gettin’ a little cool in here. Where is my Hot Tamale? ” When he didn’t get an answer, Rodger lifted his ample body from the lounge and lumbered out to the front porch in search of his lover.
The porch was deserted, though Ava’s car remained. Rodger guessed that the call she had taken had been private and she’d taken a temporary leave. That guess was more appealing than the guess that she’d realised her mistake in fucking such a vulgar creature and was trying to find her escape.
Rodger plodded back into the house, disappointed that his partner in sex-crimes had abandoned him. Flopping back into the deep dent on his lounge, made by the daily positioning of his heavy ass, he flicked through the television channels while he tried to ignore the raging hard-on that still held his boxers in the shape of a tent. His erection nagged at him, begging for round two with his blonde seductress. Rodger thought about football, about cooking, about work. He thought about anything that might take his mind off sex, or the possibility of sex. He even tried visualising his mother naked. When that didn’t make his cock flop he thought there might be something wrong with him. And that got him thinking about his mental state –did he have an Oedipus complex? Or a sex addiction? He didn’t think so, but that erection just wouldn’t go down. Rodger did the only thing he knew would be sure to get rid of a hard-on. He flicked the television over to the adult-only channel and jerked off.
When he was done servicing himself, Rodger changed the channel and stared at the screen, his cock still hard in hand. He didn’t understand it, having a wank should have done it. He didn’t have the energy to figure out why his penis was still at attention. His eyes felt heavy and the rest of his body, all but that one part, was listless. Rodger gave in to the sleep that swept over him.
As his eyelids began to close he heard the sound of soft footfalls. Rodger pushed against his lids to see who was creeping into his home. His vision was blurred and all he saw was a slim figure.
“Is that you, Ava?” he slurred. But the figure in front of him had dark hair, not blonde. He couldn’t make out any other features of the mysterious stranger that stood over him. “Who are you? What do you want?” With the sudden thought that this person may have been looking for his wife, he said, “Nancy won’t be home ‘til tomorrow. You’ll have to come back then.”
The person standing in front of him didn’t speak, just continued to stare in silence. A great sense of unrest settled over Rodger. He felt a hand grab either side of his boxers. The hands tugged aggressively at them, almost ripping them as they came down his legs and off. His cock was still hard and Rodger wished now, more than he ever had even during his awkward adolescence, that his cock had an off switch. He swiped out, but his hand only made a feeble brush against the stranger’s arm.
The foreign hand began stroking his penis. Rodger wanted it to stop, but it felt so good. And he was too weak to make it stop. He couldn’t understand why he was he so weak –he’d only had two glasses of scotch. While Rodger tried reasoning with his body, trying to make it comply with his commands, the stranger spoke.
“You’ve been a very naughty boy.” The voice was muffled in his ears but Rodger could understand the words.
“Who… who the… hell are you?” he half-drooled through his stupor.
“You’ve inhibited my progress, and that is unacceptable. But I am merciful. I will give what you desire before your repentance. I will satisfy your urges before I kill you.”
Rodger felt something cold and slippery drip onto his cock. Then the stranger grabbed it in a firm grasp and began tugging vigorously. The slimy fluid made the hand slide up and down his cock with ease. The pleasure inside of him mixed with distain. How could he be enjoying this so much? This person was violating him. He didn’t even know if this was a man or a woman. Then there was the fact that the stranger had said they would kill him. But it felt so good. Rodger moaned with pleasure, and he groaned with disgust. He wanted it to stop, but it he wanted it to continue.
The sweet release of ejaculation swept over him, as did a tremor of repulsion. His eyes fluttered against the weight of the drug, Rodger catching flickers of the stranger between blinks. Before he could make out details of the stranger’s features, a sticky hand clamped over his eyes.
A point of coolness touched his forehead, which quickly turned into a hot sting as a blade sliced though his skin. Rodger winced and tried to push his attacker away, but the drug that coursed through his system still had a firm grasp on his motor skills and the best he could manage was a limp swat at the arm that held the blade. He tried to squirm out of the blade’s path, but his body wouldn’t move.
Rodger groaned in pain as the blade sliced numerous short, deep cuts, one after another, into his forehead. The stranger stood back, admiring the handy work inflicted by the blade. The light caught his attacker’s teeth, and Rodger was sure he saw a smile stretching across the blurry face.
“Now, to pay your penance,” the stranger said.
An arm lunged forward, something long and metallic glinting from the outstretched hand. Rodger struggled to find his voice, to understand what was happening. It was too late. The long blade plunged into the soft flesh of his stomach. Rodger’s body jerked reflexively as the tip sliced through his gizzards and severed his spinal cord. A slow ebb of warm blood oozed from the wound. The stranger pulled the blade out and took aim again, this time cutting through his ribs and lungs.
The adrenalin coursing through his veins momentarily overrode the drugs in his system and Rodger rolled off the lounge. He began scrambling across the floor, ignoring the pain and the deluge of blood, dragging his limp lower half toward the phone in the hall.
The stranger caught his arm, pulling it out from under him, flipping him onto his back. In a frenzy the blade plunged in again, and again, and again, until the pain and blood-loss overwhelmed him, and Rodger was dead.
The stranger stepped over Rodger’s fresh corpse, dropped his half-torn boxers on his bloody chest and left, slamming the door closed on the way out.