Darren E Laws
The first novel in the Georgina O’Neil trilogy
Caffeine Nights Publishing
Fiction aimed at the heart and the head
Published by Caffeine Nights Publishing 2008
Revised and reedited edition 2008
First published in 2003
Copyright Darren E Laws 2008
Darren E Laws has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1998 to be identified as the author of this work
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All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, scanning, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher
This book has been sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental
Published in Great Britain by Caffeine Nights Publishing
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Book Design by
Mark (Wills) Williams
Everything else by
Default, Luck and Accident
By the same author
ISBN: 0955407001 Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-9554070-4-8 eBook
Available from all good bookstores and Internet stores
Coming soon from Caffeine Nights Publishing
The second novel in the Georgina O’Neil trilogy
For persuading me that I can actually do it
Smile, you're Dead
ax Dalton did not struggle nor fight; his body hit the water with a stinging embrace, though he did not feel any pain. He was past caring; technically still alive, but more than ready to welcome death.
The water was warm, inviting. Max had no real comprehension of where he was, and even less now of who he was. Slowly, he submerged. The warm fluid filled his mouth, the cavern enlarged by the removal of his tongue, lips and teeth. He breathed the water in through his nose; at first panic at the realisation that there was no way of expelling it, then only the comfort of allowing it to fill his lungs.
he alarm was ringing in his ears with a fuck you attitude that was sure to get Leroy LaPortiere out of bed, but on the wrong side. The heat was closing in already and his clock cheerfully told him that it was just after five thirty in the morning. His girlfriend, Lia, was lying on top of the sheets, her body glistening with perspiration like morning dew. Her arm outstretched touching his naked back.
‘Go to sleep, hon.’ Leroy wanted to roll on top of her and slip deep inside her.
‘Be careful, baby.’
‘Sure hon, nothing ever happens around here.’
And he was right. He was on the money one hundred per cent of the time, but a winning streak like that has to end some day.
After a cold shower, Leroy was ready to face another day. Breakfast, would consist of an artery hardening and unsatisfying stop at Wendell’s Diner for an early morning mixed grill, hash browns and a gallon of extra strong coffee. The longevity of officers of the law on Turtle Island was not dictated by the rising tide of crime but by the accelerating spread of saturated fats through increasingly narrowing arteries.
‘You gonna die.’ A familiar voice came from behind.
‘That is the most sense you’ve talked in a long time my man. We all gonna die.’ Leroy didn’t need to lift his head from his grease sodden breakfast to know his partner was standing behind him. The smell of Giorgio Armani aftershave followed Rick Montoya around like a dust cloud announcing his arrival. Montoya dragged a chair over the stone tiled floor and sat next to LaPortiere. He waited patiently for a passing waitress before ordering his morning meal.
This is Groundhog Day, TV, Football, Sex and living. The game plan was that they would meet every day for the next twenty years, doing the same thing until they cashed their pensions, sold their homes and sailed around the world. Of course they were going to sail around the world; why wouldn’t they?
Montoya, like his partner Leroy LaPortiere, worked for Missouri Police Department. LaPortiere for the past twelve years, Montoya, only one year in Missouri, twelve in Chicago before that.
Rick dropped a small brown envelope onto the table next to Leroy.
LaPortiere opened the manila envelope, noticing that it was addressed to Captain Norman Frusco, his chief. He withdrew a small bundle of Polaroid photographs, knowing that it wasn’t going to be Rick’s holiday snaps.
‘You know, I really thought that this sort of thing was confined to the big cities.’ Leroy shuffled through the photos. ‘This is the John Doe?’ He studied the victim, or what was left of him. He stared into the white bloated face, the lifeless eyes; it was something a movie could never capture, no matter how good the actor. The mask of death was something that could never be faked even with the best special effects and yet here he was looking at a cheap Polaroid and the look was unmistakable.
LaPortiere shivered. ‘Like I told you, we all gotta die someday.’
Narla Fleisher brushed her teeth vigorously while staring at her face in the bathroom mirror. She swirled water around her gums, dislodging toothpaste and various debris from last night’s dinner. She smiled, thoughts of the previous evening still fresh in her mind.
‘Honey, Don't forget its parent evening tonight.’ She called through the adjoining door.
An audible moan came from the en-suite bedroom.
‘Harley's expecting us both, so try not to get tied up with work, okay?’
‘Yeah, yeah.’ Charles Fleisher rolled over in the bed onto his back and sat up.
The sunlight streamed through the window, which Narla had already opened to fend off the beginning of the day's intense heat. Charles massaged away the early morning fatigue from his face, sweeping back his dishevelled mousy brown hair. Narla walked into the bedroom, naked from her shower.
Charles admired his wife’s body as much as when he first saw her naked.
Narla laughed and playfully threw the towel at her husband, all suburban happiness with no dark undercurrent. Charles leapt out of bed and grabbed his wife from behind. She enjoyed the sensation of his bare skin rubbing against her own.
‘Hey, I thought you had enough of that last night.’ She turned and immediately felt how excited Charles had become. ‘Obviously not.’
She pushed his powerful frame away from her and he over-dramatically fell backwards onto the bed. His hands reached out and grabbing her arms, he pulled her on top of him.
‘I've just showered.’ Narla only slightly protested.
eroy studied the pictures for hours. He searched through files on missing persons. He was wearing the face of a man that had spent too much time delving through the minutiae of boring details of boring people’s lives.
‘I think our break is only going to come when we find the body. The savagery of the killing…the mutilation, the killer wants us to be aware of his existence.’ Rick broke the silence.
‘Something like that.’
Leroy looked at the photographs. ‘D'you have a theory?’
‘Curiosity, that's all. This guy really is pulling our chain.’ Rick continued. ‘Sending us the photos.’
‘There might be clues here.’ Leroy grinned
‘He likes to play games.’
‘Yeah, one big power game. The more we look at this, the more we might learn about him.’
‘Ring Lia, it's going to be a long night.’ Rick settled back in his chair.
‘Shit man! Lia and I were goin’ out tonight. She’s gonna kill me and you're responsible. By morning you’re gonna be looking for another murderer.’ Leroy strolled away, tutting his disapproval. ‘I need a holiday from this dump.’
‘Harley really is an asset to this school, Mr Fleisher.’ The grinning form tutor smiled flirtatiously at Charles. She crossed her legs, allowing her skirt to fall open briefly, exposing long tanned legs. Charles could smell her. The bitch was in season. Miss Fuller made no apology nor looked even faintly embarrassed. She stared into his eyes and pulled the skirt back to modestly cover her legs.
Narla coughed indignantly. ‘Do you think she's making progress?’
Charles thought she was.
‘Oh, most definitely.’ Miss Fuller's southern drawl placed her somewhere between Missouri and Mississippi, what the 'Narla Fleisher's' of this world would have branded poor white trash, three or four decades ago, and even now only met at PTA meetings and on daytime soap operas. Mind enemas for the non-working classes.
Narla was impressed by Miss Fuller’s simple beauty, her long, fine, sun bleached hair, her body, with only the merest hint of a tan, her smooth, moisture holding skin, wrinkle free and unblemished with a pair of green eyes to die for. Narla imagined a school full of pubescent boys with permanent hard-on’s.
‘Harley is top of her form in most subjects. She is a very bright young girl. Her maths still needs some work, but even here she has excelled against this time last year.’ Miss Fuller continued
Charles looked across the hall at his daughter, Harley was sitting with a group of friends they were laughing and chatting the way ten year old girls do, with feverish excitement, possibly about the latest hunk boy pop group or an exchange of fashion tips which will come back to haunt them in future years.
Harley broke from her conversation briefly to look up and wave affectionately to her father.
Charles smiled back.
Later in the evening, Narla cornered Charles in a quiet moment. ‘Miss Fuller wants to fuck you.’
Charles laughed. ‘Do you blame her?'
Narla snorted. ‘You smug bastard.’
‘I love it when you talk dirty.’ Charles continued to mock his wife, enjoying the frisson of the moment.
‘Did you think she was attractive, I know I did?’
‘Sure, if we ever have a son I'll send him here.’ Charles pulled his wife closer. ‘Seems our daughter is the school genius, though that's not surprising with our genetic pool.’
‘Hey, Mr Modesty, be careful or we may have to widen the door frames.’ Narla leaned up and kissed Charles gently on the lips.
lease, please don't hurt me. I promise I won't tell anyone, if you just let me go.’
Stephen England was lying face down on a mattress that smelled of car oil and stale urine. He was tethered by rope to his wrists and ankles. He was naked with his legs and arms spread-eagled, tied to the corners. He didn’t even know if anyone was in the room with him or how long he had been there. He had slipped in and out of consciousness for three days, losing track of time. The black canvas bag over his head allowed no daylight to pass through and if it did, it would only confirm that he was alone in the dark. He listened for a reply, waiting to hear some confirmation, any confirmation that he wasn’t alone. Silence greeted his plea, a silence that only heightened his fear. If he shouted would he come back and if he did, that would mean more pain, more humiliation, but what if he was gone, maybe somebody would hear him, come to his aid.
Stephen began to cry, the frustration of his predicament overwhelmed him.
The resonance of the heavy metal door opening suddenly focused his mind, the sound sharpened England’s senses in a way that he really wished wouldn’t.
Leroy crawled into bed at four thirty am; his mind was too unsettled for sleep, disturbing images from the Polaroid's infiltrating any resting moment.
‘I hope she was worth it.’ Leroy’s girlfriend, Lia, said in the best sarcastic voice she could muster at such an unearthly hour.
‘Nah, she don’t do that thing you do with your tongue.’ Leroy joked. He lay on top of the sheets, the sticky heat wrapping his body like a honey laced shroud. Unable to sleep, he watched daylight transcend from night. The few hours until Lia rose seemed like a lifetime. Leroy sat watching the ceiling change hue as the light filtered through brightening the paintwork. All the time he was thinking. The morning solace concentrated his mind perfectly, until the trill of the alarm broke his train of thought.
Devoid of light and disorientated in time, Stephen England found himself wishing for death. The last time he was here was the worst. The most painful, the most degrading. England tried not to think of the humiliation of being raped, urinated on, and sodomised with everything from a beer bottle to a wire brush. The pain of the latter bringing blissful unconsciousness.
The door clanged open again and fear paralysed Stephen. Hands roughly turned back the black canvas hood on his head, exposing Stephen’s mouth and nostrils. The rank smelling fetid air smelled fresh when free from the confines of the coarse hood. Fortunately, he could not see the hammer that smashed his teeth, shattering them and turning his gums to a bloodied pulp. He felt the second blow, but was unconscious by the third.
The sensation of his head being roughly jerked back woke Stephen. He immediately gagged on the blood in his mouth and coughed, spitting out blood and teeth into a mass gooey puddle on the mattress in front of him. His tongue tried to access the damage, pieces of pulped gum flapped loosely inside his mouth.
He screamed. ‘Kill me now…please.’ But it was unintelligible. Just a bloody gargled sound as his tongue pushed against air and gums.
There was a blinding flash, followed by another, then another. A voice whispered. ‘Smile…you’re dead.’
ome things you never get used to. Paedophiles, child victims of murder, rape and sodomy; Britney Spears singing, the phone ringing in the middle of the night. All of these things disturbed Georgina O’Neil, but tonight it was the phone that disturbed her most. Her hand automatically scrabbled for the phone receiver in the dark. The shrill of the ringing was obscenely loud in the quiet of the night. She wanted to quieten the noise before the dead awoke; sometimes it’s just too late.
‘This better be good.’ She lifted the phone to her ear. ‘Hello?’
It was a little after one o’clock in the morning, within two hours she would be on a plane flying south from Maryland, throwing up for the best part of the journey. Turtle Island…She had never even heard of it.
Jo-Lynn Montoya peered from under the bed sheet. ‘Tell me it's Saturday.’ Her voice has a raspy croakiness to it, brought about by the heat of the night.
‘It's Thursday, hon.’ Rick answered.
Jo-Lynn's sleepy face emerged into daylight. She squinted, allowing a gentle introduction to her eyes. Eyes that were as deep brown as her skin, her hair was dyed from its normal black to a lighter brown and had been straightened with the help of a perm. The style softened her natural African-Caribbean look to a more Western-European look. A concession to fashion, and reluctantly; acceptability in a predominantly white Anglo-Saxon area.
Rick bent down and kissed his wife good morning. ‘Hi, hon.’
‘Don't you Hi, hon me. You missed Ray's match last night. He's as mad as hell and I ain't far behind him. We moved here to spend more time with Ray. He needs his father now more than ever.’
The recollection of his son’s semi-final basketball play-off caused Rick to groan aloud.
‘You know I wouldn’t have missed it, if it wasn't for something really important.’
‘I know, but you try explaining that to an eight year old boy.’
‘I'm in the shit.’
‘You got it.’
Rick took a deep breath. ‘Did he win?’
‘They lost by four points and he missed three baskets, two were penalties. You can wake him up.’ Jo-Lynn sat up, her cream coloured floral print silk nightdress clinging to her body with a mixture of static and perspiration. She looked hot in more ways than one, though her body language warned him that for the moment, her body was going to be one playground that was out of bounds as a punishment; at least for today.
Rick stood up, dressed only in his white Calvin Kline shorts; Jo-Lynn secretly admired his toned, well-kept body, as he put on a pair of jogging bottoms.
‘Be gentle with him. He cried himself asleep last night.’ Jo-Lynn added.
‘Make me feel great.’
Rick left the room and headed for his son’s bedroom. He opened the door quietly and peered through the gloom. Ray was submerged beneath a light summer quilt. Posters of Michael Jordan adorned the wall. Attached behind the door was a mini basket ball hoop, the sponge ball he used to slam dunk was tossed on the top bunk once inhabited by his older sister, Jordan.
Rick sat on the bed. His son started to stir.
‘Hey champ, how's thing's?’
A bleary eyed boy sat up and hugged his father. ‘Hi, Dad.’
‘I'm sorry I missed your game last night.’
Ray looked up. His brown eyes huge and forgiving. ‘I'm glad... I stank.’
‘I hear we have to work on your penalty shots.’
Ray smiled, embarrassed. ‘Yeah.’
‘We’ll get out in the yard at the weekend.’
Rick crossed his heart with his index finger. ‘Promise.’
The telephone rang and Jo-Lynn called her husband from the bedroom.
‘Gotta go champ.’
As he walked down the hall, Rick couldn't help but feel that he had let his son down. The sad truth was that he had.
Jo-Lynn had the phone to her ear and was talking to the caller when she saw Rick approaching. She cut her conversation and handed the phone straight to him. ‘Here he is now.’
Rick took the phone; it was his chief, Norman Fusco.
Within twenty minutes he was behind the wheel of his Chrysler heading for Cape Gardeau. Someone had dragged up a body while fishing.
The roadblock and road closed sign heralded to Montoya that he was at last in the right vicinity. Murder victims cause 1.9% of traffic congestion, suicides 2.7%. The queue of cars ahead told him he was close. It was an hour’s drive from his home so Rick was surprised to see Leroy LaPortiere’s Volkswagen parked in the temporary make shift car park, which in normal times was the picnic area.
He parked alongside and headed out, up a hill, over toward the wetlands guided by a police officer's directions to where the body had been found.
LaPortiere was up to his thighs in water, wearing an overlarge pair of fishermen’s waders. Rick recognised the tanned balding head that belonged to his boss, Norman Frusco. Frusco was standing on the drier bank by the marsh. Frusco waved recognition to Rick.
Rick acknowledged Frusco before shouting to Leroy. ‘Hey, Leroy, mind the gators.’
‘Very funny, Rick. Why don't you get your black ass in here?'
‘You know I can't swim, otherwise...’ Rick's sentence trailed away, noticing that Leroy's attention was firmly on events behind him.
Rick turned to see a young white woman, late twenties he guessed, dressed in a smart burgundy skirt and matching jacket, white blouse and Wellington boots.
Georgina O’Neil clumped over the brow of the hill and headed straight toward Frusco.
Her hand was outstretched to greet Frusco. Before she was within range, they made contact. Her grip was firm and the shake vigorous.
‘Captain Frusco.’ Georgina introduced herself. ‘Agent O’Neil. My people informed you of my arrival.’ She said as matter of fact, not debate.
Her hair was jet black, stylishly cut but more for practicality than fashion. In the field she had learned it paid to be pragmatic rather than vain. Her eyes were blue and lit with spirit, her skin Celtic white, inherited from her Father.
‘Where's the body?’
‘Over by the bank.’ Frusco walked with Agent O’Neil down the incline. ‘Did you have a pleasant journey down here Agent O’Neil?’
‘To be honest, Captain, I can't stand planes they make me air sick. I would have driven but for the need to be fresh at the scene.’
They stopped by the body, which was encased in a bodybag.
‘I gotta warn you; fresh is not a word I would use to describe the body.’ Frusco crouched down and unzipped the bag. He leaned backwards as the aroma of decomposition wafted up.
Agent O’Neil held her breath, and then exhaled before breathing through her mouth. Some agents used tiger balm to keep the stench of putrefaction at bay; Georgina would have too but for an allergic reaction. The pungent aroma of rotting flesh permeated in to the air. O’Neil could taste the corruption.
‘Where's the guy who found the body?’
Frusco looked around, spotting the fisherman on the bank side. ‘He's over there…feeding the fish’
O’Neil turned and saw the man spewing the contents of his stomach directly into the river.
‘Lucky fish.’ O’Neil watched the heaving body of a man dressed in fisherman’s garb with waders up to his chest. He wore an army camouflage jacket open to the waist, exposing a matured beer belly that strained the cotton material of his Budweiser tee shirt.
Rick moved down the bank side to talk with Leroy, some twenty yards away from Frusco and O’Neil.
‘What do you make of that?’
‘F.B.I.’ Rick looked on as Agent O’Neil crouched down joining Frusco; she hitched her skirt up slightly, allowing herself to balance effortlessly.
She eased the body bag open.
‘Phew! Quite a mess.’ A bloated, swollen head greeted her, his skin was a grey, blue colour. The hair on his chest and around the genital area was matted with algae. There was a large tear in the stomach where the fisherman who found him had accidentally hooked into, but there was no blood, just loose flapping skin lying over exposed intestinal tissue.
‘Looks like he's been fish food for some time. Vermiculation evident.’ O’Neil scanned the body.
‘Teeth and tongue removed, his genitalia has trauma, though I think that's mostly Gator related. These jagged marks here?’ Her latex gloved finger probed and lifted serrated folds of skin where the victim’s lips once were. ‘These seem pre-mortem. See how uniform they are. It’s almost as though the victim’s lips have been cut off.’
O’Neil was zipping up the bag and telling Frusco to ship the body to the morgue for an autopsy as Montoya and LaPortiere arrived.
Divers continued to swim around the shallow marshlands; some policemen, dressed in waders like Leroy's, fished around with their hands, searching the silt bed.
‘Agent O’Neil, May I introduce you to my two leading investigators on this case. Detective Rick Montoya and Detective Leroy LaPortiere.’
Rick smiled and offered his hand. He enjoyed the firm contact of Agent O’Neil grip through the latex glove she was wearing. She pulled at it and snapped it off to shake Leroy's hand. Leroy grinned like an imbecile, pleased to be one up on his friend and partner. The first to make physical contact with her flesh. Such little matters were all a part of a long playing game between the two men.
‘Gentlemen, I am here from the FBI Behavioural Science Unit to help build a profile of our perpetrator.’ She held up her hands. ‘I am not here to tread on your toes or undermine any aspect of your work or the investigation. I think this manner of co-operation will best be suited to working together to achieve our common goal, i.e. catching Charlie Madman. Any questions?’
Leroy was rubbing his nose but secretly sniffing the perfume transferred from O’Neil’s hand during their introduction. ‘Is that Clinique?’
Georgina looked Leroy coldly in the eye. ‘I think its rotting dead man.’
Rick allowed a smirk to spread across his face.
‘Good, first things first, where can I get a beer and what's the best motel in the area that falls within a $50 a night budget?’
he was expecting the knock at the door. One beer, a shower and a change of clothes later, Georgina O’Neil was ready for a hectic briefing session, even though it was late in the evening she felt it would give a good opportunity to become aquatinted with Detectives Montoya and LaPortiere. The air conditioning unit crackled and hummed annoyingly but it did at least alter the air quality to something more like that of her native Virginia. She pulled the door open and stepped in to the oven like furnace of a Missouri summer night. LaPortiere greeted her and walked with her to the car. Montoya was driving. She climbed into the back seat and was surprised when LaPortiere joined her.
‘Things have been happening since this afternoon.’ Leroy said ‘It would seem our friend has already taken his next victim.’
Rick briefly looked over his shoulder and joined the conversation. ‘Stephen England; reported missing by his girlfriend. He hasn't shown for work for six days. It might be co-incidence but nothing ever happens here. Nothing and now this.’ He turned around and settled into his seat before starting the car. The Chrysler's tyres spun slightly on the shingle car park drive before gripping and pulling away; moving away from Turtle Island and back onto the mainland and Missouri.
‘This may be the break we need,’ O’Neil said ‘unless he's had a change of heart, at some point he'll have to dump the body. So who was the John Doe we pulled out of the river earlier?’
‘Still a John Doe, there’s no local report of anyone else missing.’ Rick replied, as he turned right onto the freeway. A large bug splattered against the windscreen, a small explosion of blood and green goo. ‘But it’s only a matter of time.’
‘The preliminary autopsy report came through the system earlier tonight.’ Leroy fished through a black folio bag and pulled out a folder, which he handed to Agent Georgina O’Neil.
The car sped along the highway passing thick wooded forests and wetlands. Georgina read the document. The two men continued the journey in silence both of them lost in concentration.
The car doors echoed as they shut in the near empty car park. Night staff was down to a minimum and what police vehicles remained were out on the streets patrolling. They took the lift up to the third floor where Montoya and LaPortiere shared an office.
Rick opened the blinds to allow the view of the city into his office. The night sky cast deep red with a few ominous looking clouds hovering overhead.
LaPortiere opened a small fridge. ‘Beer?’
The fridge was one of the few concessions allowed for officers of their rank, one of the few luxuries that were always appreciated, there were no pretences about not drinking while on duty, the heat made it a pre-requisite. O’Neil and Montoya both nodded acceptance. Leroy threw a can to Rick and fished through his desk drawer for a glass for Agent O’Neil. He took out a straight beer glass and opened the ring pull on her can.
Before he could pour, O’Neil replied ‘It'll be okay from the can.’
Leroy smiled. ‘Right on.’ and passed her the can, which she immediately put to her lips.
‘How do you put up with this heat, it's so ...muggy.’ She gulped at the liquid then put the can down. ‘Right gentlemen let’s get to work.’
The smell of fresh bread baking assaulted Charles Fleisher's nostrils the moment he entered the house. There was the sound of talking and laughter coming from the kitchen, homogeneity painted in a thick syrup of emotions. Charles followed the enticing sensations, walking down the hall and turning the corner, where he found Narla and Harley in the kitchen
‘Hi babe, come on in.’ Narla beckoned her husband into the kitchen. Charles smiled, walking over to his wife; he kissed her, his usual greeting, warm, passionate, unaffected by his daughter’s presence.
‘You’re drunk.’ Charles noticed the nearly empty bottle of Muscadet on the worktop.
‘Very nearly,’ Narla smiled. ‘but extremely happy.’
Charles breathed in. ‘The bread smells nice.’
Narla sipped as she spoke. ‘It's one of mother’s Irish recipes, Harley's making it, I’m...’
‘Supervising.’ Harley chipped.
‘Harley.’ Charles greeted his daughter, he moved back to his wife, holding her by the hips.
Narla noticed a small speck of blood on Charles face. She wet her finger and wiped it away.
‘Blood.’ She explained
‘Must have cut myself shaving.’ Charles rubbed over the area with his finger then turned his attention back to his daughter. ‘Come here short stuff, where’s your greeting for your old man.’
Harley ran and embraced him, wrapping her legs around his waist and her arms over his neck. She placed a slobbery kiss on his cheek, covering the area just cleaned by Narla.
‘So, you’re baking bread, hey?’
‘Uh-huh, Mrs Fuller set each of us a task for domestic science, I got baking bread.’
Harley smiled one of her heart-breaking beautiful smiles; smiles that are designed to be extinguished by adulthood. Charles kissed her lightly on the lips. ‘You are going to be a real heartbreaker honey, now give your old man a squeeze.’
Harley hugged her father tightly as she could, before being lowered to the ground.
‘Better check your bread?’ Charles patted Harley’s bottom as she walked to the cooker.
‘Mind now, it’s hot.’
‘I’m going to shower, hon, then I’ll come back down to entertain you lovely ladies.’
Narla finished of her glass of Muscadet. ‘Don’t be long now.’ She watched her husband as he walked away.
Even though the world looks quiet and safe through your windows, you never know what is really happening out there…in the world. You know that there is pain and suffering but it’s easy to ignore as long as it keeps a discreet distance, yet all the time you fear that it is going to walk right up to you, tap you on the shoulder and say. ‘Excuse me, but may I have this dance.’ Somewhere a file was being transferred via a modem from a computer to another computer miles away, via three different continents, and fifteen servers. This file was an image, a solitary image. A photograph of a man about to die, a man about to breathe his very last breath. And this image was about to change everything.
Excuse me, but may I have this dance?
Firefly’s whizzed by, landing on the hollow reeds that grew from the river’s edge, the sound of crickets vigorously rubbing their hind legs, and the mellow scent of honey-suckle filled the air. Narla sat with her back resting against Charles chest; She continued drinking the wine, and was now subdued. Harley had long since gone to bed. The two of them sat watching the evening turn to night. Narla, unwilling or unable to move.
Charles had lit the outdoor candles that ran down the garden to the picket gate. A dog barking somewhere across the fields from the other side of the riverbank the only other sound apart from the gently moving river, the quietness and tranquillity of the moment soporific.The wine was taking its effect on Narla; Charles never drank to excess and was as sober as ever. Narla let the evening wash over her.
She tried to focus her thoughts, rarely had she felt so relaxed, so tired. She lifted the glass to her lips, her arm weighed a ton and the effort required just to lift it almost wore her out. Narla’s eyes began to close; Charles felt her head grow heavy against his chest, then fall gently to one side.
Charles lifted Narla and placed her over his shoulder. She only mildly protested and felt the odd sensation of being carried upstairs, but was too tired to care let alone protest. Charles laid her on the bed, unzipped the cotton dress she was wearing and gently lifting her managed to pull it off. During the summer she never wore a bra just plain cotton briefs. He scooped her up and held most of her weight cradled in one arm, while his other arm pulled back the sheet. Charles lowered her to the bed. From the bedroom window he looked out across the garden at the rising moon.
‘It's ten thirty, I think we should call it an evening soon.’ Georgina said realising that the plane journey down from Washington was catching up with her. ‘So let’s review before I totally flake out. All we know about this latest character, Stephen England, is that he went missing six days ago.’
‘Yeah, his girlfriend reported him missing earlier today.’ Leroy offered. He leaned back in his chair and supped the last of a can of beer.
‘Seems it was not unusual for him to go walkabout a day or so, so when he didn’t arrive home Tuesday, she didn’t think it unusual. By Wednesday she was a little concerned, but his diary had him driving for a meeting in Chicago. My kinda town.’ Rick cribbed the information from his notes.
‘Has this man never heard of planes?’ Leroy was genuinely astounded that anyone would ever want to drive the distance.
Rick referred back to his notes said, ‘Phobia, he was scared of flying.’
‘Needless to say he was a no show in Chicago, and then we get a phone call from his girl.’
‘And The Bulls were playing too. Ray would have loved to have seen that.’
‘You’re a Bulls fan?’ Georgina asked trying to catch a rare insight in to the detective’s private life.
‘Used to live there. My wife says I spent more time watching the Bulls than with her. I might add in my defence that, that was only true during the season.’
‘And Ray is?’ Georgina prompted Montoya.
Leroy groaned. ‘Oh my God, he’s gonna get his pictures out, I just know it.’
Rick opened his wallet and offered Agent O’Neil a photograph of his wife and son; she leaned across the table and took it, pulling another photo with it. She studied the first picture.
‘He’s a very handsome boy, you must be proud.’
‘Just like his Dad.’ Rick joked.
Leroy feigned being sick in the waste paper basket.
‘Your wife is very beautiful.’
‘She is.’ Rick said with more than a little pride. ‘She worked for the district attorney’s office in Chicago. Now she shares a legal practice in Springfield, on the Island.’
Georgina looked at the second photograph, another family shot of the Montoya’s but with an extra member. ‘Oh, you have a daughter?’
Rick leaned forward and took the pictures from her. ‘That’s ...Jordan... named her after Michael Jordan... she’s dead.’
‘Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry.’
Rick remained quiet about the details. Georgina knew not to push.
‘Okay, let’s get on.’ O’Neil said after a suitable break.
Rick and Leroy sat back in their chairs; they were as fatigued as the F.B.I investigator.
The fridge was empty; each of them having consumed three cans of lite beer, the daily allowance. An empty Pizza carton lay discarded save for a few crumbs and two dried pieces of Pineapple due to Leroy's dislike of the fruit.
‘Our killer is probably white; though we are not precluding people from other ethnic origins at this stage. Male; probably mid-twenties to mid-forties. Although the preliminary autopsy shows anal trauma we must not assume he is homosexual. This is a man who wants to be in charge, raping his victim is, I think, a part of show of strength, not a sexual predilection.’
‘Is that why a rubber was used, to avoid actual contact?’ Leroy was trying to formulate a mental picture of the killer. ‘There was no trace of semen, only latex residue and lubricant.’
‘Partially.’ O’Neil nodded. ‘We cannot assume that the anal trauma is caused by penile penetration. This is probably the result of a prolonged attack using foreign objects.’
Leroy leaned forward stretching his aching back. ‘Maybe he thinks this is safe sex.’ He said sardonically
‘He also didn't want to leave any semen, anything which could be used to trace him. So we can assume that maybe he might have some sort of criminal record or may have had a D.N.A swab taken at some time, although again this is purely speculation. Something…some trauma which happened to him is probably what is motivating him now.’
‘Must have really pissed him off.’ Leroy said. ‘One dead and one missing is quite a statement.’
‘Harboured grudges fester, it's usually better to vent your anger when you are initially aggrieved.’ O’Neil sat back in the chair and rubbed the tension away from her neck.
‘Again, this is a sign of repression which is now coming to the fore. He is probably quite intelligent. Research and history shows most multiple killers have an above average Intelligence Quota, many have no fear of God or religious belief though conversely there are a few examples who believe that they are doing God's work. Because all the victims are male so far, I think we can assume that he has no grudge against women.’
‘No Oedipus complex, that makes a change. If he's not homosexual and gets along with women, then maybe he's married?’ Rick offered.
‘That's not uncommon; in many cases spouses have no idea of their husband’s activities. Records show that some murderers often have a wonderful sex life. These attacks are not sexually motivated, this is purely to do with power, it's almost territorial. The male asserting himself.’
‘Well, I think I have to assert myself now.’ Leroy said standing up. ‘Otherwise Lia is going to assert her foot into my black ass.’ He cricked the knots out of his neck.
‘Early start please gentlemen. I too have a home to get to, and the sooner we catch this guy, the sooner I get to see it. 8am here?’ Agent O’Neil lifted the files and shuffled the papers, tapping them on the desk, before slipping them in the folder. ‘Could I have a copy of the Polaroid’s of the victim, Detective Montoya?’
‘I think if we're going to be working together for some time then formalities could be dropped.’ Rick smiled and passed O’Neil the photographs.
‘Well, you can call me Georgina.’ Georgina smiled back and offered her hand.
‘Before we go, I need the bathroom, could you point me in the right direction?’
Rick opened the door and pointed to a door adjacent. ‘Go through that door, along the corridor and it's at the end, just before the elevator.’
‘Thanks.’ Georgina O’Neil picked up the folder and her small handbag and headed out toward the toilet.
‘Call me Rick.’ Leroy teased his partner.
Rick smiled. ‘We’ll, it’s an improvement on the latex handshake.’
Narla moaned a slight protest, more of someone who was being slightly annoyed than anything else, but she was in too much of a slumber to wake. Charles shifted his knees around Narla’s ribs, the mattress shifted slightly to support his weight. He called her name, the reaction was next to nothing. Then placed his hand against her face and stroked her cheek. She didn't flinch. He ran his hand down her neck, encircling it briefly with the span of his hand, his touch light, enjoying the sense of power he was holding. He opened his hand and let his palm rest on her breast bone, feeling the rise and fall of her chest as she breathed the breath of someone in a deep, deep, sleep. His hand moved sideways to the left, his fingers trailing lightly over her erect nipple, before moving on to her right breast, cupping the small breast, enclosed under his hand. Laughing to himself, Charles wondered what she would make of it if she was conscious now. How she would react if she woke and found him straddled over her. Both of them naked. The temptation to have sex with her was unbearable. A thin trail of semen had leaked on to Narla's stomach. Charles entered her, she was dry but it seemed to add to his excitement, he moved inside her gently. He moved back and forth very gently, lubricating her with both of their juices until he came. Narla moaned as his hot semen rushed inside her, but she did not wake. He climbed off her. The bed rocked gently, still she did not stir. Charles slipped on his jockey shorts and put on his white towelling robe, then picking his Polaroid camera up from the dressing table, took a photograph of Narla, lying naked on the bed. He pulled a thin white cotton sheet over Narla, the semi-transparent material clinging erotically to her. He took another picture and left the room. Charles waved the photos in the air impatiently, prompting the images to develop faster, a smile forming on his lips as the silver halide image formed. As he walked down the hall, the door to Harley's bedroom opened and a bleary eyed Harley stepped out rubbing her eyes.
Charles slipped the Polaroid’s into his pocket and placed the camera on an occasional table, which held one of the six telephones house strategically around the house.
‘Hello cup cake, what's wrong?’
‘I had a nightmare.’
‘Did you darling?’
Harley nodded. ‘Can I kiss Mummy goodnight?’
Charles crouched down to her eye level. ‘She's asleep, you wouldn't want to wake her up, would you?’
Harley shook her head. Charles picked her up and threw her over his shoulder, a squeal of delight emitting from her tiny lips. Charles carried her to her bedroom and plopped her onto the bed, before tickling her unmercifully. Laughter and shouts of delight filled the air until Harley pleaded for mercy. Her legs and arms thrashed trying to push her Father’s fingers away from her. Charles pulled the quilt up over his daughter. ‘Ssh, you’ll wake mommy.’ He put his finger to his lips bent forward and kissed Harley's forehead, she responded by kissing his lips. Her lips were cold and over wet, her arms clung around his neck and she hugged him tightly.
‘I love you, cup cake.’ He kissed her lips gently and almost immediately she closed her eyes to go to sleep.
o Stephen England it was just a voice in the dark. He did not know who his kidnapper was; he did not know the man who had inflicted terrible pain on his body. He had never met the man whose incessant ramblings he had to endure for hours, between bouts of physical and sexual assault. It had just been his misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Oh, what he would do now not to have worked late that night, what he would give to have left with Lorraine, his secretary. What he would do now to live his life to the full, as if every day were his last. But he didn't leave. He carried on working. Stuck at the computer, transferring and swapping files with other collectors. Now all he wanted was to die.
‘He’ hadn't been there for ages. Maybe, Stephen thought. ‘This is to be my fate, left to die alone in the dark.’
Infections were beginning to set in to Stephen's wounds in his mouth, buttocks and internally. His own faeces an enticement to the flies. His wounds an invitation to the nest of maggots laid there. He pulled at the ropes using what little strength he could muster. The knots cut in tighter re-opening the raw skin. The pain was of little consequence. England screamed and pulled and screamed and pulled and screamed. He didn't know if it was his imagination, but the rope around his right wrist seemed to have gained a little slack. He stopped moving and concentrated all his effort, energy and thought on the one loose rope. If he could have seen the damage to his wrist, he would have stopped. The skin has ragged away, leaving the tip of his wrist bone exposed. He let his arm rest against the mattress; then gave an almighty jerk, followed by another, and another. Pain was replaced with hope. The canvas hood over his head started to restrict his breathing. His actions grew more laboured. The oxygen content in the hood dropped and was replaced with carbon dioxide. Images flashed through his head. The beginning of pain induced, oxygen deprived, hallucinations. He tried one last tug at the rope and to his surprise his arm came free, then he passed out.
Rick dropped Georgina back at her motel and finalised the next day’s agenda before setting off to take Leroy home. Leroy and Rick talked on the short drive. Rain started to splatter on to the windscreen and the low rumble of shifting clouds above warned of a turbulent night ahead. Rick shifted the gear stick in to fifth, and turned on the wipers, the rain smeared like grease, temporarily obscuring his vision. Leroy now in the front passenger seat sat back and closed his eyes, confident of his partners driving ability.
‘So what do you make of Miss Frosty Pants?’
Rick glanced at Leroy briefly, before returning his attention to the straight road ahead. ‘I think you’re pissed because she hasn't given you the green light.’ They both laughed, knowing it to be true.
‘You know something really bothers me about this case, we’ll be able to ID the body real easy so why does he give remove the teeth and lips?’
Leroy stared ahead unfocused. ‘Not only does this guy not expect to get caught, he's so sure of himself that he gives us enough information to build a case that he must know would involve The F.B.I. It don’t make sense?’
‘D'you think he has a grief against the Feds?’ Rick slowed the car down and turned right in to a small road, which housed two tiered wooden structured houses.
‘I don't know... killers seem to operate to their own agenda. Maybe he wants to spice things up by adding a chase element. Who knows?’
The car pulled to a halt outside a large wooden house, the main structure painted white with a small lawn that led slightly uphill to the porch. A light was burning in the main room. Leroy smiled. ‘Lia's waiting.’
Rick watched a bolt of lightning light the sky in the distance. ‘Storm’s coming.’
The car wipers swished away the rain, which was now pounding tympani of sound on the metal roof.
Lia was curled up asleep on the sofa, tired of waiting for Leroy to come home.
The sound of thunder rumbling seemed distant and remote to Stephen England as he lay in the dark. He had no idea how long he had been unconscious and barely any idea how long he had been conscious. His mind had snapped into sharp clarity like the click of a switch. He moved his arm and began to remember. He was able to wriggle his fingers, lift his arm; move his hand. He fumbled for the edge of the canvas hood and started to pull it up, the coarse roughness of the material rubbed painfully against Stephen's swollen lips and mouth. He tugged it over his mouth, the effort sending sharp sensations of pain to his wrist. All the time he tried to remain focused, keep his concentration. One last tug and…darkness. The room was black. Despondent, Stephen lay there, hoping his eyes would soon adjust, but there was no light for them to adjust to. He began pulling at the rope, trying to get some slack so that he could pull his other hand free. Time in this void was meaningless but it took Stephen a further exhausting hour of pulling, tugging, and manipulating until quite suddenly and without warning his other hand slipped from its restraint. Stephen England sat crying tears of joy for ten minutes hoping he was only minutes from freedom. He shuffled backwards, trying to sit up and free his ankles; excruciating pain ran through him. Raw and open festering wounds protested against the sudden movement. The knot appeared to be some sort of slipknot, the more that he pulled against it, the tighter it constricted, much like a noose. England fumbled with the rope, his fingers slow and painful, but the ropes eventually slackened and he was able to pull one foot free and then the other. Again, the sheer effort exhausted him. Closing his legs together caused him to cry out, agonising pain mixed with the lack of use, bringing further unwelcome sensations. Still laying on his front Stephen England pulled himself forward to the edge of the mattress and he tried to stand. He crawled forward, waving one arm ahead of him, trying to feel out any unwanted obstacles, until his palm jarred off a wall. He pulled himself up using the wall for support and leaned awkwardly using his shoulders. His fingers searched for a door or light switch as he rolled against the walls. The relief felt when his thin bony fingers felt the square plastic mount with its oblong rocker switch was as great as when earlier he freed his hand. The light blasted in his eyes, sending him reeling, falling to his knees. The hard floor jarring through his frail body, England's hands automatically shielded his face trying to block out the light that he was so anxious to see. Slowly he peered through tiny slats in his hands made by his fingers. He could see the mattress, he tried not to focus on the indignity of the excreta but tried to take in as much information as his disorientated mind could absorb. There was a hammer, the one -he guessed- used on his mouth.
Over in the far corner was a wooden workbench, with an electric drill and a jigsaw.There was a roll of rope, still wrapped around its central core and many other tools. In the centre of the floor was what looked like a trap door. A set of dumb bells and weight's were lying against the far wall. To his right, a flight of stairs rose upwards. Stephen tried to stand; he hobbled back to the mattress and picked up the hammer. The weight dragging his arm. The fatigue-sapping effort of lifting it almost overwhelming. The stairs beckoned, sirens of freedom, hypnotising him. His foot stepped on the first runner and using the handrail he dragged his body up, ready for the second step. The door at the top grew closer and closer. His heart quickened, releasing endorphins blanking out his pain and giving him fresh impetus. He stood at the top and pulled down on the handle, now breathing hard, the air passed through his battered mouth, the sharp sensation of pain increasing his awareness. The door was locked. Rage quickly dispelled disappointment as he swung the hammer at the metal handle. The hammer sank in to the soft aluminium. He hit it again and again, until the handle folded to pulp. He crashed down on it one final time as the handle clattered to the floor. He pushed against the door; still it would not budge. His renewed energy began to drain and along with it any hope of escaping, he threw the hammer with frustration at the door making a small indent to the metal surface. Stephen trudged down the stairs, on the verge of giving up. He glanced at the workbench and spotted the array of power tools. The drill or the jigsaw would surely make easy work of the door, but he needed a long extension lead to reach it. He pulled open one of the drawers inset in the workbench. Twenty or so Polaroid photographs slid forward. Violent, graphic images of terrible deprivation. A variety of young men tied naked to the mattress, suffering obscene degradation. Implements of suffering and torture inserted into them. Close-ups of their bloodied toothless mouths. The reality that he was not the only victim began to dawn to Stephen, that he was only one of many unfortunate young men, started to sink in. The one fact that he was certain of was that if he didn't escape he was dead. The next set of photos confirmed this to him. The blank staring lifeless eyes, the pale bodies, some missing hands or feet, one with entire limbs cut away, lying in a pool of his own blood. Panic and revulsion now began to motivate him, fearful that at any moment he could return. England threw the pictures, scattering them through the air, across the floor and opened the next drawer. Tin boxes housing nails and screws and various oddments but no extension lead. Stephen slammed the drawer shut, instantly regretting his action as the vibration jarred through his right wrist, he grabbed it with his left hand trying to sooth the pain and block out the image of the porcelain white bone exposed through the raw skin. One more drawer to go, the bottom one. Deeper than the other two; this offered hope. England opened it, closing his eyes through fear of disappointment. The fear confirmed; the drawer was empty. Despair swept through him. He looked around for the lead but there was no sign. With the door no longer an option for escape, Stephen's eyes fell upon the trap door in the centre of the floor. The door looked as if it opened into something below. He wandered around the room, bouncing off the walls looking for a control panel or lever to open the hatch. His eyes darted around the room. Hanging on the wall opposite was a bright orange, nylon rope, and just behind in a recess was a lever mounted on a panel. England grabbed the rope with renewed energy and headed for the lever. He pulled down with all of his strength using his left hand. The effort nearly lifting him off his feet. The lever protested mildly and then eased downwards. Stephen looked at the trap door. It was open....
The storm moved closer, the rain heavy, almost tropical.
Roads started to flood, torrents gushing down, filling storm drains taking debris, stones and earth with it.
Lightning flashed illuminating the bedroom. The air was heavily charged with electricity and sticky.
The voice inside grew louder.
‘It's time, do it now!’.
The relentless splatter of rain against the window enforcing the voice, hammering home the message. Thunder exploded overhead, followed swiftly by the electro static crack of white phosphorescent lightning. He sat down. He was the one with the power, he was in charge, they couldn't question him. He made sure that they couldn't question him.
'Now' was the right time.
A klaxon wailed, the distress warning nearly sending him into apoplexy.
Stephen England sat on the edge of the abyss, his legs dangling into dark space, suddenly the sound of a wailing siren added impetus to his escape. He could hear running water below but could not see how far it was to the bottom. He lifted the hammer and let it drop in to the blackness, waiting to hear it land. The clatter of metal against concrete followed by a splash a second or so latter assured him that the drop was no more than fifteen to twenty feet. He secured the rope from the banister and let it fall in to the hole where the trap door was. Stephen guessed that there was at least forty foot of rope, hopefully, more than enough. It sounded like the end of the rope hit the water but he couldn't be sure. With no flashlight, no clothes and time running out until he returned, Stephen knew he had no option but to grasp the rope using what little strength he had left and try to climb down into the chasm. With a deep breath, he launched himself forward and hoped to have the strength to support his own weight. He swung sideways bouncing off the wall and held on tightly while waiting for the rope to steady. He tried to remember the correct way to climb down a rope, curling the rope under his foot, up his leg and across his thigh, so that his foot supported most of his weight and not his weakened arms. Slowly he started to lower himself into the unknown. After about ten feet he noticed the temperature began to drop, he looked up, the light above him was now inviting, below was only darkness and uncertainty. The further down he went the colder it became, the sound of the water increased. It sounded fast, rushing. England hoped it wasn't too deep; the prospect of having to swim was not one he relished in his current state of health. He kept looking up, expecting to see him at any moment towering over the entrance above him. To his surprise his foot suddenly felt the water and he allowed his arms to take most of his body weight. The water was cold, but fortunately not freezing, hypothermia was hopefully not going to be one of the conditions to add to his long list of ailments. He lowered himself to his waist, his feet were still unable to touch the ground. England’s arms finally gave up their hold and he sank under the water. Instinctively he took a huge gulp of air before being submerged. Even though the water was cool it had a calming effect on Stephen. It supported his body, encompassing him in a womb like protective environment. If he died now -he thought- it would not be too bad, there would be none of the pain or suffering that was the fate of the other men in the photos. His body bobbed back to the surface and the instinct for survival quickly dispelled any thoughts of morbidity. England took a huge gulp of air and started to tread the water. Lights above his head flickered on and off before finally settling and illuminating the tunnel. The question now was, which direction to go in? Forward, to the left, right or backward? Cold air blew against his face, chilling his skin but giving him the answer. Forward it was.
Something brushed against his arms it was soft, fleshy. Stephen England started to move towards the direction of the breeze. Half-swimming, half treading water. Every now and then he would stop to check the breeze. The further he went the warmer the water became, even the breeze started to get warmer.
He opened the door leading to the sub chamber under the house knowing what he was going to find, there was no point in being optimistic about the situation. The room was empty. He saw the rope attached to the trap door and marvelled at Stephen England’s ingenuity and fight for survival. He stood over the open chamber and gripping the rope lowered himself into the sewer system below. His journey down quicker and more assured than England’s. Lights above flickered on, motion sensors detecting a mass greater than that of any sewer life than normally habituated the environment. He could hear splashing further down the tunnel, England was not far away…Oh this could be fun. He would follow from a discreet distance before pouncing. Oh yes, this could be fun.
The scream that echoed down the tunnel behind England cut through to his bones. He had returned. The shrill sound gave his legs and arms fresh impetus, moving him on at greater speed. Suddenly there was a flash of light up ahead, followed by another and the rumble of thunder. The current became stronger, making it harder for him to progress.
The lightning exposed the walls of the tunnel; Stephen figured he was in an underground river or storm drain. The entrance -his exit- was only fifty yards away.
illian Dace shifted the Subaru Jeep to fifth gear. Her husband, James, was sitting next to her asleep, as was her two-year-old son, Robert. They had been driving all day and it was her two-hour shift behind the steering wheel. It was their annual vacation, two weeks with Jimmy's mother – Barbara - on Turtle Island. Jimmy's mother and father moved there 15 years ago. George Dace -Jimmy's father- had died eight years ago and they have been holidaying there ever since. Now with little Robbie, it seemed even more important to have solid contact with Barbara. During the sixties it had been a place where artists, writers, painters, photographers had flocked mainly to experiment with drugs in a certain amount of peace but a solid community had built up over the years and now it was more like a small insular outpost full of travellers who found their own Nirvana and decided to settle. It was a close-knit community with a real sense of purpose. Gillian loved it there and so did Jimmy; it was only their jobs that kept them from relocating and settling there. Gillian turned the wiper speed up a notch, the blades increasing their speed as they travelled across the screen vainly trying to keep her with a clear field of vision. She looked at the illuminated clock, only ten minutes of her shift left before Jimmy could take over the driving duties for the last stretch of the journey.
‘Wake up, Jimmy?’
She took her hand from the wheel and shook his arm gently. He mumbled, moaning.Gillian shook him again. ‘Come on, Jimmy, it's near your turn.’
Jimmy opened his eyes and blearily looked out at the rain lashing against the windscreen. They passed a signpost, it was illuminated by the Subaru's headlights.
Turtle Island 15km.
‘Sure you don't want to carry on driving? We're nearly there.’
Gillian took her right hand away from Jimmy's arm and rubbed her neck.‘I'm bushed, kinda finding it hard to concentrate.’
‘Okay, I'll just ring Mom, tell her we'll be there in half hour or so.’ Jimmy lifted the handset from its cradle and dialled his mother's number.
‘I hope she's still awake?’ Gillian said looking at the clock; it was nearly two o'clock in the morning.
‘She'll be awake...Yeah, hi mom...yeah, we're nearly there...just passing Campbelltown...Okay...see you soon.’ Jimmy put the phone back in its plastic house attached to the dashboard. ‘She said she hopes we're hungry.’
Gillian groaned, visions of a spread fit for an army flashed through her mind. The only thing she felt at the moment was tired and ready for her bed. She slowed the four-wheel drive down and pulled it to a halt on the verge.
‘I'm not getting out in that.’ Jimmy protested looking at the rain.
‘Okay, shuffle over.’
The two of them made a simple manoeuvre look complex as they collided in the middle of the car, collapsing in a heap of laughter. After a few minutes they were back on the road, with Jimmy behind the wheel. Gillian opened a can of cola and sipped from it.
Gillian passed her husband a can of coke while she opened the glove compartment and fumbled through a pile of CD’s, until her hand rested on the one she was searching for. She opened the cover and popped the CD in the stereo. Iris Dement started to sing, filling the confines of the vehicle with her lyrical personal stories of America's heartlands and her life. The songs seemed to strike a chord of recognition with both Jimmy and Gillian.
Jimmy took a quick swig from the can.
‘JIMMY!’ Gillian's scream rose above the engine noise and the CD, waking her confused child and shocking Jimmy. She grabbed his arm ‘STOP.’
James instinctively slammed on the brakes as the figure of a naked man, half bent over, holding his knee with his left hand and his right hand outstretched appeared through the blur of the rain. The ABS system stopped the wheels from locking but the vehicle skidded, veering wildly sideways on a blanket of water. Jimmy fought with the steering wheel to straighten the car. The Subaru aquaplaned as the tyres tried to form a bond with the tar macadam surface. The figure did not move, showed no sign of wanting to move. Gillian covered her eyes, fearing impact. They were almost on top of the man. Jimmy felt the tyres finally grip the road, he pressed down harder on the breaks, hoping the hydraulic system held up under the pressure. The wheels started to squeal a protest as the car finally shuddered to a halt but not before bouncing hard off the body of Stephen England, knocking him onto the grass verge.
‘Oh my God.’
Jimmy stared at the naked figure of Stephen England., His hands were still gripped, white knuckled to the wheel. ‘Shit…I never saw him….I’
James leapt out of the car, the rain immediately drenching him. Gillian turned around to comfort her son and found that the contact with him comforted her far more. She unbuckled the restraints and lifted the child from his seat. Gillian watched through the rain soaked windscreen as James took of his jacket and placed it over the man's body.
Gillian started singing to Robert to quieten him. ‘Hush little baby don't you cry, mama's gonna sing you a lullaby.’ In the background Iris Dement was singing about the death of her father.
Jimmy shouted through the driving rain. ‘I think he’s dead.’
He watched from the sanctuary of the darkened countryside. England was lying motionless in the road. Some poor sap was running around like a headless chicken panicking. He sat on the damp earth watching, willing the driver to get back in his car and leave. He could not help but laugh at the irony of the situation. Someone up there must really have it in for England. The driver returned to his car and used the cell phone. He waited until the ambulance arrived before getting up, turning and heading back towards the house.
he ringing sound was distant and annoying. The noise grew nearer and louder, until it registered in Agent Georgina O’Neil mind and her eyes snapped open.
The ringing again.
She scrabbled around the bedside table until her hand fell upon the phone.
Her eyes focused on the green illuminated LCD display. 4-35am. Somewhere down the other end of the line Leroy LaPortiere was imparting news that had just been relayed to him. His own mind was just beginning to assemble the facts through the fog of sleep. She placed the phone down and was tempted to crash back into the world of dreams and sanctity of darkness. Night was still pushing against the curtains.
Georgina sat on the edge of the bed watching the local TV station's news bulletin, while waiting for the kettle to boil. Her motel room was small and basic but at least provided the luxury of an electric kettle, two cups (one chipped.) and one saucer, some small packets of instant coffee, sugar and milk powder plus a portable television, which she had turned on, along with the kettle. Part of her morning ritual was to drink at least two cups of coffee before showering, because it was still the middle of the night Georgina saw no point in changing her routine. As she poured the boiling water onto the grouts that were meant to be instant coffee, her attention was drawn to an article on the TV. She saw Gillian Dace being interviewed.
‘Well, we had been on the road all day driving to Turtle Island to see Jimmy's mother and all of a sudden I saw what turned out to be a naked man standing in the middle of the road, right about here.’
Gillian moved to a spot to indicate the exact position. ‘He was kneeling in the pouring rain. Looked to Jimmy and me, like he had been beaten badly. He had no teeth, his mouth was a mess...I’m sure we didn’t do that to him.’
The phone rang again, interrupting Georgina's concentration. She answered it, turning the volume of the television down with the small remote handset.
‘Hi Leroy... yeah I know, I'm watching. How come your boys didn't warn her away from the media?’
‘It would seem Jimmy's mother works for the local TV station.’ Leroy was sitting in his kitchen munching through a slice of buttered toast, talking to the phone via it's built in speaker, while simultaneously trying to shave with a battery shaver.
‘What's that noise Leroy?’
Leroy chomped another bite of toast. ‘Breakfast.’
‘No, the buzzing.’ Georgina said puzzled. ‘Don't tell me if it's personal.’
Leroy laughed. ‘I'm shaving.’
Georgina stretched the telephone lead to grab her coffee and swallowed a mouthful. ‘How's is he, the TV says he’s alive?’
‘I've been on the phone to the hospital, the doctors tells me that he’s in a coma. By all accounts he was a mess, unlucky to be alive.’ Leroy replied.
Georgina swirled the grouts in the bottom of her coffee cup.
Leroy continued talking. ‘Rick’s down there at the moment assessing the situation. Making sure that even if he blinks we get to talk to him.’
‘I think we should talk to...’ Georgina read the name on the television screen. ‘Gillian Dace and her husband. Can you meet me here?’
‘No Prob.’ Leroy put the phone down.
urtle Island is an oddity, 350 square kilometres, population somewhere in the region of 5,500. One of the last areas in the state to enter the union in 1822 a full year after the rest of Missouri.’
‘Don’t forget to tip the guide.’ Leroy leaned to his side and joked with Agent O’Neil.
Rick ignored his partner and continued. ‘The Island had a governor up until three months before joining the union; he was skinned alive by what we endearingly term Native Americans nowadays. This act was the primary reason for Turtle Island falling in line with the rest of the constitution. During the depression in the nineteen twenties, people moved away in search for jobs but a bootleg whiskey operation flourished during prohibition. The island had a large black community until the fifties. Mainly descendants from the slave trade, they all but left now. In the sixties it was a haven for artists, hippies and drugs. Now it's an idyll set among a mad world, populated by middle class wealthy whites and intelligent blacks, I'm pleased to say.’
‘Yeah, that means Rick lives here.’
The Chrysler carried on down the decline toward the area known as Freemantle, Turtle Island’s Main Street. One multi-plex cinema, eight restaurants including one Korean, one basic American, a small shopping mall and an edge of town general store. No police station, one small legal practice and a realty office. O’Neil tried to absorb her surroundings. The area looked affluent, there were no groups of kids hanging out, although it was still early in the morning. In many neighbourhoods where O’Neil had been called to work, it was not uncommon to find groups of delinquents bunking school and terrorising the locals almost any hour of the day. Montoya swung the Chrysler round a sharp left bend, causing O’Neil to fall against Leroy. The car then climbed up a sharp gradient, pushing them both back into their seats. The road was now almost dirt track, another sharp left past two derelict houses, wooden in construction, flaking paint and broken side panels. O’Neil noticed a mill house in the distance.
‘This area is mostly owned by the realty office in the town.’ Montoya offered ‘Plans are to revitalise the properties and sublet them to tourists. You’ll be pleased to know planning permission has just been granted to start the byway.’
‘Amen to that.’ O’Neil bounced around the back seat, her body battered by the dirt road. ‘So where do you live Rick?’ She asked more to pass the time than real interest.
‘Near town. Jo-Lynn gets phobic if she can’t see some concrete.’
‘I’ll get phobic if I don’t see some tarmac soon.’ Leroy said looking pale.
They bounced along for another five kilometres before joining a stretch of tarmac and what appeared to be a better-preserved area of the Island. Montoya halted the Chrysler outside a large detached brick built house. There was a Subaru parked on the drive and a ‘M.R.TV.’ van behind. The double garage next to the house was open and residence to two more vehicles.
The home of Barbara Dace was comfortable; Georgina O’Neil guessed they paid well in TV land, even if it was only the local station. They were welcomed into a large hall. There was a staircase slightly adjacent to the front door. Barbara Dace put her fingers to her lips.
‘Ssh! Gillian and James are just finishing a spot for the next bulletin, hopefully it’ll be going network.’ She whispered. ‘Follow me.’ Barbara led the three detectives through the hall into the kitchen. ‘That’s better, we can talk here.’
O’Neil opened a calfskin wallet and showed the silver haired woman her identification.
‘That’s all right dear, I know who you are, I received a phone call from Captain Frusco. He’s a nice man…a rare breed these days.’
The words nice man and Frusco were rarely used in the same sentence and brought a smile to both Leroy and Rick’s lips.
‘Oh my, look at my manners. Would you like drink?’ Barbara Dace continued. ‘Tea or coffee, or maybe something cold?’
Rick was going to decline but when Agent O’Neil immediately accepted a coffee he reconsidered and asked for one too, Leroy plumped for tea. As Barbara filled the kettle the detectives sat on kitchen stools placed away from the walnut breakfast bar. ‘I’m sure they won’t be too long. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?’
Georgina stiffened her back and sat upright on the chair. ‘I presume the police officers warned you against doing that last night?’
‘Of course they did.’ She smiled patronisingly. ‘I am a reporter Ms O’Neil, this is what I do for a living. It quite simply is the biggest thing that has hit our little island in nearly two hundred years, probably ever will. Anyway, I preserve the right of my family to the Fifth Amendment, besides James and Gillian are being paid $15,000 each for their story.’
Rick interrupted. ‘Their story? There is no story. All they did was run over some poor bastard.’
‘Oh, but were that true detective. If there was no story then what are you doing here and what is the F.B.I. doing here in my kitchen? It is no secret that a killer may be at large in our small community here on Turtle Island.’
O’Neil, LaPortiere and Montoya looked at each other with a certain amount of surprise.
‘Don’t try denying it. As soon as the story went out on the air this morning the television station had phone calls from six families reporting missing people plus one person claiming to be the killer.’
‘Yeah, an probably five UFO sightings and Elvis Pressley about to jump from Independence Bridge.’ Leroy tried to dilute Barbara Dace’s reporter’s intuition. He studied Dace. She was of average height, slim and fashionably dressed; silver-haired. He guessed she was in her late fifties. There was no attempt to dye her hair but she had it cut short with a modern style that was attractive and flattered her features. Her skin was slightly weathered, tanned with a few wrinkles, though again not unflattering. She filled three cups with hot water, the liquid turning various shades of brown. ‘I hope you don't mind instant.’ She stirred each cup, adding milk as she did so.
A tall, black haired man appeared at the kitchen door. ‘We've finished, Barbara.’ He smiled at the detectives then returned to the lounge.
‘John Keller, my cameraman.’ Barbara explained. ‘You can see James and Gillian now.’ Barbara walked in to the lounge. ‘You can bring your drinks.’
James and Gillian were sitting on a sofa; two camera lights were on stands in front of them, extinguished. John Keller was putting away his Camera into a large canvas bag. Rick and Leroy pulled chairs from under the dining table and sat in front of Gillian and James.
e lifted the weights above his head, his arms straining, pumped up, veins standing proud, sweat pouring down his face. He held the weight steadily, swaying slightly before letting it crash down to the ground. Dust rose into the air in plumes, refracting against the strong light. He lifted the dumb bells and started arm curls, grunting with each laboured exercise. His arms hurt but the pain was somehow nice. His voice drove him on warning him of the dangers. He knew what had to be done now. His thoughts were clearer than they had ever been before. Exhilaration replaced pain; flowing through his body like the blood being pumped by his heart. There could be no more mistakes now. He stared appreciatively at his body in the full-length mirror attached to the wall. Every muscle was defined, glowing with health. He placed the dumb bells down on the floor and sat on a thin mat, towelling himself dry.
‘The others won't be so lucky.’ He thought to himself.
He showered and dressed and read the newspaper before pushing out a further one hundred press-ups. Lunch was light, mostly fresh fruit, some poached eggs and a slice of wholemeal bread toasted on one side. The television had been buzzing with stories and assumptions about a man found wandering on the highway from Turtle Island. One intrepid reporter even managed to link the man with two out of the other three missing locals, speculating whether a serial killer might be at large in the small island community. He sniggered to himself, spurred on by his newfound infamy. There was a need for release burning inside of him. A wanton lust that need fulfilment.
As soon as he saw the television early that morning, Gary Clarkson knew it was going to be a busy day. He wandered through the stock room of the general store looking for maps, films, sun block, cold drinks and snacks, in fact anything that he thought might possibly sell to the curious, the morbid and the media. He whistled as he plucked items from the racked metallic shelving; every cloud has a silver lining. The door rang. A customer.
‘Ma.’ No answer. ‘Ma.’ Again.
Gary groaned as he placed the armful of stock on the floor and made his way to the shop. A man was standing at the counter, newspaper in hand. Gary recognised Charles Fleisher instantly, he was a regular, not the sort of regular that would make Clarkson rich but a steady reliable spender.
Fleisher was reading the front page.
‘Gary.’ Charles answered but continued reading the paper, seemingly absorbed in the story. Gary did not need to ask what he was reading about. It was the talking point of the year…hell, of the decade.
‘Seems we’re going to be famous.’
‘Seems so.’ Charles answered flatly.
‘Going to be quite a circus trudging through this little island.’ Gary Clarkson was excited at the prospect; he looked at the headline on the morning paper, bad news for some was always good news for others.
‘D’you have a packet of mints?’ Charles never looked up from the paper.
‘Got a viewing?’
Charles proffered a five-dollar bill. The bell to the shop rang again. Gary and Charles both watched Karen Fuller walk slowly down the shop. Gary leaned forward and whispered to Fleisher.
‘Never had teachers like that in my day.’
Charles Fleisher turned and watched appreciatively as Karen made her way toward the counter. The morning light reflected around her, silhouetting her. Occasionally as she moved part of her would be exposed to strong sunlight and her skin became porcelain. She stood right next to Charles, as close as she could. Charles wanted to reach forward and touch her face. Just stroke it.
‘20 Marlboro, Gary. Please.’
Gary turned his back to fish the pack of cigarettes from the racking behind him.
‘I should really be quitting.’ She said to no one in particular. Her hand rested briefly on Charles hand. Karen Fuller’s index finger stroked the back of his hand before moving away to her handbag.
This was easy, everything was easy. He scanned the images one by one. The bright fluorescent tube passed back and forth over the images, the terrible craven images. Later on he would upload the images direct to his web site and then when he became confident, through a live feed and then for greater action, for greater excitement there was high quality web cams, but this was the start…the beginning. As the images were transferred via the ftp program, he sat back with a feeling of accomplishment, a sense of achievement and excitement, then he closed the program. He typed DEATHCAM.NET into his browser and there they were for the entire world to see; his masterpieces.
he humidity to the morning was made stronger by the sun's desire to absorb all the moisture from the ground from the previous night’s storm. Agent O’Neil unbuttoned her jacket letting it flap open as she walked back to the car. Rick was dressed in a short sleeve shirt and Leroy held his jacket draped over his shoulder. James and Gillian followed.
‘It was just up here, about one hundred yards ahead.’ James pointed to an undefined point in the road. ‘I marked the spot by leaving a full bottle of 7up there on the verge.’
Rick stopped by a green plastic 2-litre bottle full of clear liquid, there was the temptation to open it up and drink down the whole two litres but it had been baking in the morning sun for nearly five hours.
Georgina scanned the horizon. A bank ran to her left lined with hickory trees, to the right more trees. She walked up the bank, her foot slipping slightly on the damp grass. She steadied herself, placing her hands on the bank to stabilise her body, before continuing up the small incline. At the top she asked. ‘What's beyond these woods?’
Leroy shrugged his shoulders.
'Could you get a map, I've got one in my folio in the car.’
Rick had started to climb the bank, Leroy looked behind him. The cars were parked on the verge a couple of hundred yards away. He turned and slowly traipsed away mumbling to himself. ‘Yez boss, ize goze and gets it for ya.’
‘Hey, Leroy, bring the camera too?’ Rick yelled after the detective.
Leroy continued walking. ‘Okay, Masser.’ He passed Gillian and James who stopped at the foot of the bank by the road.
Rick called down to them. ‘And you didn't see which direction he came from?’
‘He was just standing in the road. But this side as though he had come from the direction of Turtle Island.’ Gillian offered. ‘He was that tired, I don't think he would have changed directions once he got to a road, though I could be wrong.’ She smiled apologetically.
Leroy came running back down the road with the map in his hand. ‘You're gonna like this.’ He stopped and caught his breath, wiping a bead of sweat that trickled down his forehead. ‘About two miles south.’ He continued between breaths‘ ...is the river.’ Leroy started to walk up the bank, still talking as he went. ‘And a further three miles east is where...we... found the first body.’
‘Do you need us? Can we go now?’ James called up the bank.
Georgina nodded. ‘Yes, you can go now. Thank you very much, you’ve been very helpful.’
James and Gillian walked back to their Suburu Jeep, the fatigue of their adventure catching up with them.
Leroy unfolded the map and pointed to the river. ‘ We found the John Doe here and Stephen England here.’ His finger then moved along the river to Turtle Island. ‘But with the information from the Dace’s, we can assume the tidal flow carried Dalton from somewhere on the Island. My guess is Stephen England somehow used the river to escape, it gets quite shallow up here.’
‘Shall we go for a walk gentlemen?’ Georgina strode away in the direction of the river.
The trees magnified the humidity, and stole the daylight. Georgina O’Neil was silently thanking her good sense at choosing comfortable footwear as she walked through the thick forestry. Leroy hung back behind her, occasionally studying the map but mostly studying the rhythmic sway of O’Neil’s hips as she walked with Rick by her side.
The forest was alive with the sounds of indigenous birds and with the humidity it felt tropical.
‘Leroy?’ Georgina called behind her, feeling his eyes boring into her as she walked.
‘What?’ Leroy replied puzzled.
‘Stop staring at my ass, you're giving me a complex.’
Leroy blushed, his dark skin reddening, almost invisibly. ‘You got eyes in your ass?’
‘Only yours, Leroy, only yours.’
Rick turned to his partner laughing ‘Oh man, you are sorely em-bar-rased.’ He exaggerated the three syllables of the last word in a mock West Indian tone.
‘So Rick, what made you want to become a cop?’ Georgina asked between pushing back low, thick growing branches.
‘I kinda stumbled in to it. There never was a master plan. Left high school graduated at college and was at a loose end. Then my dad suggested it. I can honestly say that I had never seriously considered it until then. Joined the Chicago P.D. became a beat cop for a few years then for want of a better word, stumbled into homicide. As I say no great plan...What about you? How does an intelligent young woman end up working for the Feds?’
‘I always wanted to be a university lecturer but there was too much competition in the family, I have an elder brother who’s a university professor. So I looked for another area that would be a challenge, then a friend of mine went missing...’
Georgina continued. ‘We were best buddies for ...oh, I'd say the best part of six years. Used to sleepover, go camping together, take holidays, you know that sort of thing. The sort of friend who only comes along once in a lifetime, even shared a couple of boyfriends…not at the same time.’
‘Hey, I didn’t say anything.’
Georgina briefly smiled. ‘Then one day she didn't turn up for work. At first I guessed she was taking time of ill. A week passed and no word, then the rumours started, finally the police showed up. Her body was found in a dumper truck. She had been raped and strangled. They never caught her killer...I guess I'm trying to redress the balance.’
They walked on in silence for a minute before Georgina turned and asked Leroy. ‘Leroy, what made you join the force?’
Leroy jogged along a couple of steps to catch up, slipping slightly on the grass. 'Me, I was a big fan of Shaft. Never saw him walking through this shit though.’
The dark moment was broken.
Her hand was clasped tightly around his. Doctors passed by every now and then, popping their heads through the door opening to check Stephen England's progress. Cara Morton had been awake ever since Stephen was brought in. She sat by his side talking to him, unable to comprehend why somebody would want to do this to her fiancée; unable to understand how someone could do this...period.
The doctors had operated on his mouth and were going to have to carry out more surgery on his bowel and large intestine, but for the time being, they kept him under heavy sedation to let his body recover from the shock of his ordeal.
By the time she had arrived at the hospital, Stephen was already in surgery. Cara looked at his face, his mouth a mass of stitches, bruised and swollen beyond recognition. His right arm was bandaged from the elbow to the wrist. He was lying on a support frame to relieve the pressure on his back and buttocks. Dr Martinez told her that ‘Stephen must have had great strength of will to survive his ordeal.’
England was being intravenously hydrated and fed; various monitors were keeping his condition in check via bleeping tell-tales and electronic graphs. He slept and he dreamt.In his dreams he had still not escaped. In a corner of his mind he never would. But for now the effect of his drug-induced coma held him prisoner, his eyes darted wildly under their lids, moving left and right. The read outs on the monitors became a little more animated, scribbling informative lines on graphs. A nurse entered with a doctor and adjusted the drug feed in to Stephen's system, clouding his mind even further, sending away the demons. He started to settle again, Cara looked imploringly at the doctor.
The trees opened out into a small open expanse of grassland and the river ran sublimely past. The gentle sound of water moving within a peaceful environment. Georgina O’Neil stopped by the bank watching the current flowing toward Turtle Island.
‘The river splits about five kilometres downstream and circles Turtle Island. If England came this way at night, during the storm, injured as he was, then I'm a member of his fan club.’ Leroy said as he emerged from the woodland.
‘How deep is the river at this point?’ Georgina asked turning toward Rick.
‘Deeper now than last night. Tidal flow and the storm will have swollen the level by four or five feet. I'd guess that it would have been knee to waist high last night, maybe deeper at points.’
Leroy opened the map and followed the river toward the Island. ‘It could even have been lower, storm drains are pinpointed at various places near the Island to take the overflow and stop the Island flooding.’
‘Can we get some boats to circumnavigate the Island?’ Georgina asked
‘Yeah sure, Ned Freeman runs tours of the Island by boat. I'm sure we could give him a call and get him down here.’ Rick sat down on the bank. He pulled out a small cell phone from his inside jacket pocket, pressed a button and waited while the connection was made. ‘Yeah, hi, it's Detective Montoya. Look we're out at the river, bout five kilometres from Turtle Island heading out toward Cape Gardeau. Could you give Ned Freeman a call and get him down here to give us one of his tours?…Okay’ Rick closed the phone.
Leroy sat next to Rick and looked up at O’Neil. ‘So what do you expect to find?’ Leroy asked the F.B.I agent.
‘I don't know.’ Georgina studied the lush green countryside. The woods were some one hundred yards from the riverbank with the land between wild and overgrown. ‘I just want to get a feel of the place.’ She continued. She walked along the riverbank, absorbed by her surround, trying to imagine Stephen England’s escape. Hot air rose from the ground, bringing drifting scents of damp earth, grasses and wild flowers to her nose. Georgina pushed back her short hair, some of it matting and sticking against the sweat on her forehead. The water looked cool and inviting. The sound of Rick's phone buzzing broke her concentration. Rick flipped the phone open.
‘Yeah...Make sure Ned's stocked up with plenty of cool drinks...No. Any word from the hospital...Call us if...yeah, Okay.’ Rick closed the phone. ‘Ned's on his way.’
fter one hour there were two thousand hits, after four hours it was twenty thousand. He watched with relish…now he had their attention, soon the world would know his name. He stood and stretched his arms above his head. He felt restless, caged.
The shop door rang constantly. Gary Clarkson was right, Christmas had come early. Many of them people he had never seen before, all of them had a hunger in their eyes. They were all after the same thing. They were the sort of people who slowed down at an accident in the hope of seeing tragedy unfurled and splattered across the freeway. The blood-hungry, seeking ghouls whose thirst and desire for death would not be quenched until they had experienced it firsthand. Gary didn’t mind, he’d take their money, hell, he’d take anyone’s money. Photographers, journalists, tourists, body hoppers, ambulance chasers, they were all fair game. There was even a contingent of priests, nearly stripped him out of wine. The door ran again. An old lady took her time entering. She looked frail but it was obvious when you came within earshot that she was far from delicate. Clarkson looked up from behind the sanctity of his counter.
‘Good afternoon, Gary. Is your mother ready?’
‘She’s not going today. Says she worried about this here murderer that’s been all over the papers.’
‘Nonsense.’ The old lady brushed past Gary without hesitation and walked through the back of the store to the living quarters. ‘I lived through the war in Europe, ain’t gonna let no murderer come between me and my daily swim.’
During the week the old ladies always took the afternoon bus to the mainland for an afternoon filled with swimming, saunas and shopping. Within minutes Martha was brushing Gary aside, making way for his mother. He watched their backs disappearing out of the shop.
‘Have a good time ladies.’ They were gone before he had finished the sentence.
Rick, Georgina and Leroy sat on the riverbank watching Ned Freeman's boat, ‘The Ingénue’ move majestically, almost silently toward them. The boat was an old converted fishing vessel about twenty-five feet long powered by a Cummins diesel engine. The maximum river speed barely tested the boat’s engine. Ned dressed the part to please the punters’, silver side-burns ran down his ruddy weather beaten face from his ears to his cheeks, the sort of lamb chop side burn that Elvis would have been proud of. His fisherman’s hat covered the disappearing but matching silver thatch underneath. Blue eyes sparkled beneath the rim of his cap, eyes that had seen more life than most. Nobody knew his age, nor would he tell if anyone asked, but he had been around as long as most folk cared to remember.
The boat pulled alongside the bank, chugging to a slow, seasoned, halt. Ned's dog, Nemo, barked a greeting to the detectives. The small, wiry, Jack Russell scampered around the boat, his paws slipping on the wooden surface. Ned stretched his arm out and pulled Rick, Leroy and Georgina on board, his grip still powerful and firm.
‘Hi, Ned.’ Rick had been on Ned's boat many times, taking Ray and Jo-Lynn out on Sunday excursions and the odd holiday. He bent down and stroked Nemo who gathered excitedly at his legs. ‘Hello boy.’
‘So, who do we have here?’ Ned asked.
Georgina showed her I.D
‘Hi, I'm Leroy La Portiere, Rick's partner.’
Ned shook their hands. The hand shake as firm and powerful as before, nearly too strong.
‘Pass the map, Leroy?’ Rick took the map and unfolded it. ‘Can you take us on the full tour, Ned?’
‘Don't mind where I take you, as long as you're paying.’
Georgina handed him a form, P114ex. ‘Fill that in and send it to the address at the bottom of the sheet. Don't worry it's freepost, you'll be fully reimbursed for any expenses you incur.’
‘Sheets ain't money, honey.’ Ned said smiling
Rick opened his wallet. ‘How much Ned?’
‘Full tour could take anywhere up to four hours, I could be picking up paying customers.’
‘How much Ned?’ Rick repeated not particularly wanting to play the game.
Rick had a fifty in his wallet. ‘Leroy, what you got?’
Leroy searched through his pockets. ‘Forty five and some pennies.’
‘Give us the forty five, bro.’ Rick took the cash added it with his own then looked at Georgina.
‘I gave Mr Freeman the official P114ex form.’
Rick nodded at Georgina beckoning her away from Ned. ‘Look, if you don't pay the man, we don't get no nice trip up the river. 55 bucks and we are on our way.’
Reluctantly Georgina fished inside her purse and pulled out a fifty.
Rick smiled and handed the money to Ned.
‘I owe you five.’
Within two minutes the boat was turned and they were heading toward Turtle Island.
Even at such a slow pace the Ingénue offered the detectives the chance to catch a cooling breeze on the deck. The blue grasses, tall grass and reeds that grew along the river were home to a rich variety of wildlife. Thrush and Oriole flew overhead resting in the trees and prairie grasses. Georgina breathed in; relaxing momentarily, wondering how such violence could be brought to such a quiet and peaceful place. The killer was obviously deeply disturbed but it never failed to fascinate her how that even in such tranquil idyll’s the most evil acts were perpetrated. She could understand why people go off their heads in New York or L.A…but here?
‘Peaceful, ain’t it.’ Leroy joined her by the port side of the vessel.
‘You read minds too.’
Leroy looked at her, enjoying her beauty, enjoying being close to her. ‘Sometimes.’
The breeze created by the boats movement flattened Georgina’s hair, parting it in the centre. She tried vainly to push it back but gave up after three futile attempts.
‘So, what’s the story here?’ She asked casually, hoping the relaxed atmosphere would enable Leroy to be a little more forthcoming about the events of the past few weeks.
‘You mean the case?’
‘Just checkin. Ain’t much of a story other than what you already know.’ Leroy turned and rested his back against the handrail. He watched Nemo scurry around following his master, Ned, who in turn was busying himself tidying the mooring ropes. Leroy looked into the bridge and saw Rick steering the Ingénue. ‘I want to do that.’ Leroy sounded genuinely envious of his partner’s promotion to Vice-Captain or whatever they had on boats. 1st mate, yeah that was it, 1st mate. As Ned passed by walking to the stern of the boat, Leroy called to the Captain. ‘I’d like to do that, drive this boat.’
Ned stopped in his tracks. ‘Steer the ship, detective, Steer the ship.’
‘Yeah, whatever, boat, ship, steer, drive.’
Ned called to Rick. ‘Ten minutes, Mr Montoya, ten minutes.’ and continued with his business checking the condition of the ropes.
The Ingénue maintained its course against the tide moving toward Turtle Island.
Georgina smiled, a rare event, but one that Leroy was glad to witness. ‘Probably seen Jaws too often.’
‘I wondered who that guy reminded me of; it’s that Irish guy in the film.’
‘Robert Shaw. He played Quint.’
Georgina smiled again; Leroy was hoping it was going to become a habit.
‘Yeah, he was great, shoulda got the Oscar, great film. So, you a film buff?’
‘I'm an only child, my dad used to take me every weekend.’ The memories of afternoons and evenings spent with her father in darkened cinemas rekindled fond memories of their relationship
‘You’re very close to your old man.’
Leroy thought about his father, the relationship they had was good. Together they covered most aspects of what would be deemed a closely bonded relationship, it still would have been today had his heart been stronger. For such a large man, -he stood over 6’5’’ and weighed in at 17 and a half stones-everyone thought he would live forever. He was strong as an ox and never complained of illness, bar the one day he took to his bed never to get out. ‘My father was one of the best. I don’t know how my mother coped when he died. I was 24 years old at the time, and had had a lifetime of memories and fun with him, but I had younger brothers and sisters. I was the eldest of five children, ages ranged from 24,’ Leroy pointed to himself with both hands. ‘down to eight, my baby Sis’ A smile came to Leroy’s face just thinking of Merrill, his younger sister.
‘Your father must have been quite young when he died?’ Georgina turned around and rested against the hand rail, like Leroy
‘He was forty-eight. My mother had just turned forty; my father was her first and only man. She was thirteen when they met and sixteen when she fell pregnant with me. Fell pregnant isn’t that such a stupid phrase. Makes you sound unwanted, unloved, nothing could have been further from the truth.’
‘Your father...was he Dominique La Portiere, the centre for the Philadelphia Warriors?’
‘Yeah, that was my old man, he played NBA for five years, until he busted his knee in a…’
‘Coach accident. They were returning from playing the Celtics. The bus ran off the road.’ Georgina searched her memory for the details. ‘The driver had been drinking and fell asleep. Your dad and the driver were the only casualties.’
‘You really are a fan.’
Georgina nodded. ‘I saw your father play once. Long time ago when I was a little girl.’ Georgina held up her index finger with her thumb closed close to it. ‘Very little... I must have been around eight years old. He was great.’
Ned walked past Georgina and Leroy. ‘You can see Turtle Island from the bridge. Tell Mr Montoya that you are to relieve him at the helm.’
Leroy saluted. ‘Aye, aye Cap’in.’
Georgina laughed as they strolled to the bridge. For a few moments this was summer in the country, it wasn’t searching for a killer or trying to find clues, it was something happy couples do. She reflected on the moment.
Leroy took control of ‘The Ingénue’ and steered her against the flow toward the Parlandale fork, where the river split into two, circumnavigating Turtle Island. Rick studied the map with Georgina, his finger tracing possible routes from the various tributaries that fed in to the river.
‘If we take the right fork we pass the storm drains and the old mill plus a whole load of dwellings built on the river.’
‘What are these?’ Georgina pointed to three marks constructed across the width of the river.
‘They’re called the Three Wise Men. Bridges built about seventy years ago, they used to link to the mainland, they’re unusable by car or just about any other vehicle now.’
‘So the only way on to Turtle Island is over Independence Bridge...or by boat.’
Ned sat close by petting ‘Nemo’, watching and listening to the detectives. He slowly peeled an orange, cutting the rind with a sharp knife before splitting the segments revealing the fruit’s soft fleshy contents. He popped a piece into his mouth, speaking as he mashed the segment to pulp. ‘That’s not entirely true.’ Ned stood, casting Nemo to one side as he joined the detectives. Rick looked puzzled
‘There are a host of tunnels leading from the storm drains, some are merely excess water chambers which drop one hundred to two hundred feet to underground rivers, but others are access tunnels used during construction.’ He offered Georgina and Rick a slice of the orange, which they both took.
‘Left or right?’ Leroy shouted from the bridge, slowing the boat at the fork.
e showered, dressed and read the newspaper before pushing out a further one hundred press-ups. Lunch was light, mostly fresh fruit, some poached eggs and a slice of wholemeal bread, toasted on one side. The television had been buzzing with stories and assumptions about a man found wandering on the highway from Turtle Island. One intrepid reporter even managed to link the man with two other missing locals, speculating whether ‘a serial killer’ might be at large in the small island community. He laughed, spurred on by his newfound infamy. There was a need for release burning inside of him. There would be no escape this time, although even that mistake served a purpose. The computer screen flickered and buzzed. He moved the mouse and the screen saver of two men torturing a boy disappeared, to be replaced by a list of names. The first two were highlighted in red, number three was flashing on and off…waiting. He highlighted the name with the cursor and clicked the left hand button on the mouse, the screen changed once more and a picture along with the resume of his next victim appeared.
Charles Fleisher sat behind his desk in the Office of Bradwell, Shawsted, Fleisher; Real Estate Agents. As a senior partner of the small Island business, Fleisher's association with the company stretched over ten years since joining the then fledgling company. It took time until he was trusted enough to be brought on board as a partner. As time passed so did the elder partners, some into retirement, some relocated to busier areas where the action was faster paced and some to the Green Pastures Memorial Gardens outside Campbelltown, Charles though was happy where he was. He liked certain things to be predictable. Fleisher felt good, pumped up. A lunchtime workout always managed to get the adrenaline flowing, if he was true to himself (which he often was) he felt horny. The day was quiet. He didn't have an appointment until 4-30 in the afternoon. Three and a half hours to kill. Charles flicked through the roller deck, stopping at Harley's school.Visions of Karen Fuller, Harley's teacher, formed in his mind. His fingers were dialling the number before thoughts of the consequences were able to stop him. It was nearly one. She'd still be at lunch. Two minutes of hanging on the line listening to a Phil Collins medley were rewarded with the sound of her sweet voice on the end of the receiver.
‘Hello, Miss Fuller.’
Karen Fuller didn't take much persuasion before succumbing to an offer of dinner, she never did. Charles knew where it would lead, exactly where it always led. He put the phone down and breathed deeply trying to control the surge of adrenaline. Sometimes he felt as though he would explode. His mind went back to Narla and thoughts of last night. He phoned Narla. ‘Hi, darling. Got to work tonight...probably till 11 or so, hopefully gonna tie up selling the Kingsley plot...Yeah , put the champagne on ice...I love you too.See ya later hon.’ He put the phone down, it was that easy. The deception made him buzz.
The Kingsley plot was just about done and dusted. At four thirty he would meet with representatives from 'Harper Pellum' at five he would be shaking hands and taking his usual ten per cent rake off on top of their normal fee. Easy money.
Beep! An incessant tone registered Stephen England’s every breath. A tiny pulse monitored his life in static green flashes on the small screen above his head. Cara Morton sat patiently by his side, holding his hand and talking to him. The doctors told her that under the medication he had been given, Stephen was likely to remain unconscious for some time. They wanted to give his body time to repair and his mind more importantly time to adjust.
Dr Martinez opened the door to the private room and poked his head through the gap.
‘You still here?’
Cara looked at the Latino doctor. ‘I want to be here when he wakes.’
Martinez pushed the thin wooden door open further and entered. ‘You know that could be some time, you really ought to get some rest.’
‘No, I’m alright, anyway this is hardly strenuous.’
‘Not physically.’ The doctor walked toward the bed and stood beside Cara ‘But mentally it can be quite exhausting.’ He rested his hand on her shoulder as a sign of compassion for her plight and gently squeezed. Cara appreciated his strength and encouragement, and knew the doctor was right. She had been at Stephen’s side for almost ten hours and apart from the occasional bout of activity on the monitors, which the doctors assured her was nothing to worry about. ‘Probably nightmares’. He had not moved or shown any sign of waking. Cara yawned and stretched. The sterility of the room and the temperature were beginning to have an effect.
‘Maybe I will have a break, get a coffee.’
Dr Martinez picked up Stephen’s chart and noted his body temperature and pulse rate before signing his initials and logging the time. ‘Tell you what, we have a private room for relatives, it has got a bed and a telly, picks up cable.’
‘Wow, cable hey?’ Cara mocked, smiling for the first time in ages.
‘There’s no one in there right now, why don’t you get a coffee and something to eat and rest in there for a while.’
The prospect of a few hours rest appealed to Cara.
‘And you’ll call me if Stephen wakes?’
Dr Martinez crossed his heart with his index finger. ‘The very minute he wakes, I will personally call you.’
Ned pulled the Ingénue to a halt by the side of a quay and leapt onto the wooden platform with impressive agility. He tied the ropes to a mooring ring and called his dog. Although equally aged, Nemo leapt with similar impressive style.
‘That completes the tour, you’ve circled the entire island.’
Georgina O’Neil felt disappointed. She didn’t know what she expected to find but felt somewhat cheated as to gaining anything new, except for a greater acquaintance with the lay of the land. She had studied and noted the location of houses, both empty and occupied. She had made notes of possible places that were more likely to be where she would choose to, if that way inclined, kidnap and torture people. Singular, isolated properties close to the river. There were three in particular that she wanted to have a more detailed look at. Two of them, Rick informed her, were vacant; the third occupied by Chris Hurley, owner of the local radio and television stations.
It was four o’clock and the sun was still high in the sky, Rick and Leroy were both of the impression that they had wasted a day; that the world was moving apace without their presence. This was not how they liked to work, but Frusco insisted they co-operative with O’Neil fully. There were worse ways of spending an afternoon other than sightseeing around Turtle Island with a beautiful woman.
‘Your cars should be about half a mile beyond the trees.’ Ned said, watching the landlubbers disembark. Georgina had phoned ahead and asked Frusco to get some deputies to move their vehicle to their new location, just by Independence Bridge. Rick thanked Ned; Leroy swigged on his bottle of coke and saluted the captain and his dog.
The trees Ned pointed at were Oak and Tupelo, the wild grasses that ran to meet them were waist high and peppered with wild flowers. Agent O’Neil nodded a curt goodbye to the smiling seafarer and was already strolling through the maize fields toward the thick clump of forestation.
‘Frosty.’ Ned informed Nemo. ‘That’s why I don’t like women.’ He rubbed his faithful friend’s head. ‘Only whores and dogs.’
Nemo barked approval.
t was a rare moment, the house was totally silent. Narla Fleisher sat drinking black coffee enjoying the tranquillity. Harley was visiting friends after school and Charles was working late, so she contemplated an evening reading by the river with a bottle of wine and a Korean take-away from the village. She breathed in quietly, listening to her heartbeat, the sensation of beginning to drift away made Narla sit up sharply and shake her head. God, she’d have to go easy on the wine tonight. One glass, two at the most. Narla stood and gulped down the last of her black, sugar free, coffee and decided that she had to wash her face to shake of the after effects of last night. As usual, it was only now, some nine hours after she woke that the full force of her hangover kicked in. She made her way to the bathroom, where she threw cold water over her face, enjoying the coolness from the oppressive mugginess that pervades the long hot days. Water from her face ran down on to the silk blouse she was wearing.
‘Shit.’ She grabbed a towel and dabbed it, the droplets formed tiny circles on the fine material, which unless immersed in water would dry to a stain. Narla quickly undid the buttons and filled the sink before immersing it, she watched the material absorb the water, slowly sinking under its mass. She envied the blouse and a cool bath now seemed a priority. With just her skirt to loosen, Narla was soon duplicating her blouse and immersed herself in cool clear water. She rarely wore underwear on really hot days, except for when Charles requested it. Some days they would meet for lunch and take a stroll in the country park or across the fields, which invariably led to them making love alfresco, the danger of getting caught by passers-by really gave Charles a thrill and her to, if she was honest. His erections always seemed harder, longer, their lovemaking more frenzied, passionate.She smiled as she lay in the bath, memories of close encounters turning her on.
The sound of a voice calling out, ‘hello’, downstairs, sent Narla into a panic. ‘Fuck.’She remembered that it was Friday, the groceries were always delivered on Friday and Mr Johnson would expect paying too. She looked around for a towel. ‘Damn.’ All the towels were used, lying in the laundry basket. She stood and let most of the water drip from her body before deciding to streak across the hall to the bedroom. She grabbed Charles towelling robe and wrapped it around herself. She quickly brushed her wet hair, slicking it back, and making sure she was not about to give the septuagenarian grocer an eyeful that would surely kill him and ran down the stairs to be greeted by his wizened features.
‘Hello, Mrs Fleisher.’ George Johnson smiled, handing Narla the bill for the three bags of groceries that were sitting on the floor next to the old man. Narla took the receipt from his shaking wrinkled hands, the bones around the knuckles, arthritic, stretching the thin waspish skin almost to breaking point.
‘Have to be a cheque, George. Fool husband of mine's taken all the cash.’ She instinctively put her hands in to the pockets of her husband’s dressing gown. Her fingers wrapped around two thin pieces of what felt like card. ‘Hang on a moment George. The check book is in the kitchen.’
As Narla walked to the kitchen she pulled out the pieces of card from her pocket. The black backing surrounded by the white border told her instantly that they were Polaroid photographs. She flipped them over and visibly staggered when she saw the images of herself naked on the bed.
ick, Leroy and Georgina entered the office to find Barbara Dace waiting. She was smoking a cigarette; patiently waiting for their return. She had been there for over an hour. Barbara stubbed out the remainder of her cigarette and stood to greet the three detectives. She lit up another cigarette and pulled sharply on the long stick, orange embers raced towards her lips. Her gaunt cheeks sucked in, causing hundreds of thin lines to gather around her eyes and mouth. She exhaled a bank of blue smoke, which she directed to the rotating fan in the ceiling, where the swirling blades dissipated it. Barbara sat on one of the chairs that faced Rick Montoya’s desk.
Leroy opened the refrigerator. ‘Cool, the fridge fairies have been.’ He pulled out a cool beer from the freshly replenished appliance. ‘Beer anyone?’
Georgina raised her hand.
‘Mrs Dace?’ Leroy thought it only polite to ask. She surprised him by accepting. Rick already had his hand out ready to receive. As the sound of beer cans being opened filled the office, Barbara began to answer.
‘This story is big.’ She drew down to the filter tip, whilst pouring the beer simultaneously. ‘It’s the sort of story that if you worked in a major city like LA or New York comes along every other week but you’d still kill for, pardon my choice of words. But to happen here in a small community like Turtle Island, this is my one shot. I know what you’re thinking; who is this middle aged woman?...but... something happened this morning.’ She stubbed the half spent cigarette out on the rim of her beer can, letting the smoke escape from her lips as she spoke. ‘I received a package to my house a couple of hours ago...’ Barbara put a Jiffy envelope on the table. It was A4 in size and the addressed to Master Robert Dace in purple ink, hand written, delivered by courier.
‘As you can see it was addressed to my grandson. I’ve advised my son and family to go back home until this thing sorts out...I think it will be safer.’ She lit another cigarette.
Georgina pulled on a pair of latex gloves and opened the envelope. A videocassette fell out. ‘Have you played this?’
Barbara drew hard on the cigarette. ‘You see these?’ She held forward her trembling hands, smoke from the cigarette was drawn upwards by the rotating ceiling fan. ‘I recommend something stronger than beer before you view it.’ She stubbed out the remainder and immediately lit up another.
‘Mrs Dace, I’m going to have to ask you to give us your fingerprints and a DNA swab. Although I very much doubt it, there may be a chance that our killer may have left some incriminating evidence on the cassette or envelope, it will cut out confusion.’ Leroy tried to be sympathetic asking an awkward question.
‘Yeah, sure.’ The smoke drifted into Barbara’s eyes stinging them.
‘Was there anything else, notes, messages?’ Leroy was eager to view the video; he needed to make a connection with the murderer.
Barbara shook her head
‘Has anyone else seen the cassette?’ Georgina asked.
‘Chris, that’s all.’
‘Chris Hurley?’ Rick asked.
‘Yeah.’ Barbara sighed expelling a vast amount of smoke.
O’Neil exchanged bemused glances with Leroy.
‘Did he make a copy of the tape?’ Rick asked before downing the last drop of cool amber beer.
‘I don’t know, ...I mean he could have. I took the tape to his office. We watched it there. It’s possible he could have ran a duplicate simultaneously.’
Georgina picked up the cassette, carefully holding it by its edges, mindful of any prints that could get smudged by her latex gloves. ‘It’s Showtime.’
‘Should we run the tape down to the lab first for prints and analysis?’ Leroy said somewhat nervous of exceeding protocol.
‘That will take them the best part of two hours, maybe longer.’ Rick argued ‘I say we watch it now.’
‘Send the envelope down to forensics; get them to check the gum for DNA.’ Georgina said.
Barbara stood. ‘If you don’t mind, I’ve no desire to push it into the Nielsen’s by viewing it again. Once is more than enough. Before you play it, I think I should warn you that there is a message directly aimed at the investigating team right at the end. I’ll be waiting outside if you need me.’
‘Go down to the second floor and get printed. It’s gonna save a whole load of trouble later.’ Leroy said. ‘You gonna be all right?’
Barbara Dace shook her head. ‘I seriously doubt it but thanks for asking. Thank God I’ve got a bulletin to get together for the six o’clock to keep me occupied.’
‘You sure?’ Georgina reiterated.
‘I’ll be fine.’ Barbara said. She walked out of the office.
Georgina span around. ‘Right, let’s get it on.’
She held the tape in the mouth of the eagerly waiting jaws of the V.C.R. The tape was snatched from her hand and consumed into the stomach of the black box. The telly screen was awash with dancing static until the cassette slotted home and began to play. Montoya, LaPortiere and Agent Georgina O’Neil sat in the darkened room holding their breath.
Narla didn’t know what to do. Should she ring Charles and question him? She looked at the pictures once more. Sitting on the lounge suite in the living room with a glass of brandy in one hand and the photographs in the other, she tried to understand the significance of the images. Although she was naked in one of them, she appeared to be asleep. A thought flashed through her mind. What if there were other photographs hidden around the house? Maybe there was other women?. The thought had never before entered Narla’s mind during their entire relationship, it was a giant leap but the photographs disturbed her. The thought came like a sledgehammer; her mind began to think about Charles’s late work, his long hours, and his business conferences away from home. Suddenly Narla’s life was unravelling in front of her. His study and gym, that’s where he’d hide anything from her, he knew she rarely entered his domain. It seemed to Narla to be the obvious choice. Charles had specially converted the old summerhouse at the foot of the garden by the river. He ‘needed somewhere where he could train and study in peace’. Narla knew the summerhouse would be locked, there was a spare key somewhere, now where was it?
Charles washed and shaved in his small but well appointed personal office suite. It was handy to keep fresh after strenuous gym sessions or other strenuous sessions with female clients. Half an hour till his date with Karen Fuller. The Kingsley deal was wrapped up as he’d expected. Charles was feeling good, he was going to give ‘Miss’ a night to remember? He brushed his teeth, grimacing wide-mouthed in front of the mirror, studying the two perfect rows of white tombstone teeth for unwanted debris. Dining in one of the local restaurants would be too risky, so Charles had booked a table at Palacs, a quiet restaurant outside Missouri in Campbelltown. He had used it many times before and felt comfortable there. The staff were discreet and the atmosphere conducive. An expensive dinner there had always brought its rewards later in the evening. Though tonight, Charles knew there would be no doubt about the consequences. Karen Fuller was the find of his adulterous life, a borderline nymphomaniac with an insatiable appetite for wild uninhibited sex, almost paralleling his own. The meal was merely foreplay, something he knew Karen would find torturous.
The door finally gave way to the pressure Narla inserted on it with a large steel screwdriver. She had pulled back on the handle with all her strength and weight, watching the steel shaft of the driver bend, hoping it wouldn't break. She no longer cared about the damage to the door. If she had to she would have used an axe to gain entry. Charles had been careful enough to take the spare keys with him. This only confirmed to Narla that he was trying to hide something. She stepped into the summerhouse. The white pitch board walls on the outside deflected the sun, making the interior cool and dark. Charles had boarded over the windows ‘to help keep the temperature down when I’m working out’. ‘Sure.’ Narla said to herself. She switched the light on. A neon tube flickered. While the light was strobing, Narla imagined Charles walking toward her. A dull ache had begun to throb in her temples, she promised herself two migraine tablets when she got back in the house. She felt uneasy entering his domain, even though she knew Charles would be home late. ‘Was that another of his little secrets, was he meeting secretly with someone? They could even be making love right now.’ Her mind conjured thoughts that were unimaginable.
Weights were scattered around the floor. His desk was over the far side of the room. Slowly, she walked toward the old oak writing bureau. She held on to the screwdriver; the bureau would be locked but not for long. Narla tugged at the writing flap with her fingers just in case it had been left open, but its refusal to budge confirmed the need for the screwdriver. She wedged it behind the lock at the top of the flap near the centre and pulled back sharply. It gave way with a lot less protestation than the door. The flap bounced down. Papers, pens, a book dealing with real estate law, some property sheets from his office, advertising Turtle Island’s hottest properties and a photograph of Narla with Harley were the desks only contents. Narla began to wonder if she was being paranoid or oversensitive. Her period loomed, which always made her a little edgy, and now with her head aching she began to think there was a perfectly innocent explanation for the Polaroid’s. ‘No, No, No!’ Narla shook her head. She rocked the bureau back and forward frustrated by the lack of incriminating evidence. Something inside a secret compartment jingled. Narla shook the desk again. There were always secret compartments on old writing bureaus. Her fingers ran along the flat seam edges of all the joinery, hoping to find a false panel or tiny door. She never heard the footsteps behind her, creeping closer, stealthily, so as not to be heard, so intent was Narla at finding out the key to her husband’s betrayal.
‘Jesus.’ Narla turned her heart racing. ‘Harley, you nearly scared me to death.’ She clutched the screwdriver to her breast, feeling her heart pound fiercely inside her chest and her head. Harley stood still, looking admonished, holding her school bag.
‘You never came to collect me.’
‘Oh my god, is that the time? I’m sorry Lamb. I kinda got caught up in things. Did Mrs Pearson drop you home?’
‘Yeah. Is it alright if I go to Leigh’s for dinner tonight, Mrs Pearson said I could sleep over.’
Narla looked at her daughter. ‘Of course it is.’
Harley turned to run away, but before leaving kissed her mother and said. ‘Thanks, you’re really cool.’
‘Don’t forget to bring some clean clothes for tomorrow and ring me?’ Narla called after her daughter who was already half way up the garden heading toward the house. She heard Harley reply ‘Yeah, okay.’ before her daughter disappeared inside the house. Narla sat against the wall and slid down until she was sitting on the floor. She felt physically sick and mentally drained. Her nerves were jangling. Her arms pulsed and felt heavy. After a few moments, she had calmed sufficiently enough to resume her search. Narla rocked the bureau again, trying to pin down the exact source from where the noise was coming from. Lattice carved wood shelves that housed paper and envelopes took up two columns, which ran from the right and left of bureau, separated by an arch. Narla felt around the arch. Two thin joinery lines ran to the back of the bureau. Her fingers pressed upwards and there was a small click. She pulled her hand away and in her palm was a little wooden drawer with two keys rattling around the bottom of it. She lifted the keys from their sanctuary and looked around the room for somewhere to fit them. Her heart beat a little faster; expectation and trepidation were implicit pals. She could feel the pulse in her head throbbing. Thud, Thud, Thud. Sweat tricked down her back, her palms were clammy. The heat seemed to engulf the room. There was no obvious door, maybe it wasn't in the summerhouse; maybe Charles liked to keep his secrets far away. She pulled the bureau away from the wall. Set into the wall behind the desk was a small square door about twelve inches by twelve. It had been painted over to blend in with the rest of the room’s decoration. Narla inserted a key in to the tiny aperture and twisted it. The key jammed, the door did not budge. She jiggled the key, freeing it before inserting the second key. This time the key span in the barrel and the lock pulled back, releasing the door from its frame. There were two shelves in the tiny cubbyhole; on the floor of the cupboard were three rows of videotapes. Tiny black mini cassettes, each labelled in Charles handwriting. H in bath, H in bed, H with C, H mouth C, T and G C-h-tel, M C-h-tel. The list went on. Narla counted over twenty of the miniature videocassettes. On the shelf above were rows of neatly stacked Polaroid’s, and a small cash box, metallic green and locked. Narla picked up the cash box and shook it. She placed it down on the ground next to her knees and took a pile of the photos, so neatly arranged.
As she thumbed through them her entire life began to crumble. She had steeled herself for her husband’s betrayal but nothing prepared her for the images on the tiny squares of paper. As she looked at her husband defiling their daughter, it slowly dawned on her what the ‘H’ might be on the videocassettes. Narla’s stomach turned. ‘Why didn’t Harley say something to her? How could she, as Harley’s mother, not have noticed what was happening to her daughter?’ Narla took the videos marked ‘H’ and left the summerhouse. Her legs, both laden and jelly-like at the same time. For a moment Narla thought she was going to be sick, her vision blurred over.
The tape was even worse than Barbara had indicated. It was evident that she was shocked by the contents, but nothing, not even Dace’s warning about the message at the end of the tape, prepared the detectives for the pure evil savagery played out for their ‘entertainment’. Georgina O’Neil sipped from a cool glass of water. Her throat felt tight and her stomach was queasy. Leroy closed his eyes and held the bridge of his nose between his forefinger and thumb. He breathed deeply. ‘Man, I’ve seen it all now. Don’t worry, Rick; I am sure the department will pull all of the stops out to catch this sick son-of-a-bitch. Jo-Lynn and Ray are safe.’
Rick sat staring at the TV screen. Shock was painted on his features with a broad brush. ‘I…I…what has he got against me?’
‘Guards will be getting there right now, Rick. Even as we speak.’ Leroy’s hand on Rick’s shoulder did nothing to control Rick Montoya’s deep sense of ill ease.
‘How does he even know I exist?’ Rick said.
‘The threat is non-specific, Rick. We are just taking precautions.’
‘He’d have to be mad to try anything now. He would know we would post troops all over your house.’
Rick turned to face Leroy. ‘Tell me, Leroy, did they look like the actions of a sane man?’
Leroy’s silence amplified what everyone in the room was feeling.
orman Frusco rocked back and forth on his office chair. This was not the sort of job for a man with his patience, then again what was? Captain, was the moniker on the door but it hardly began to tell the story of twenty-five years service to the Missouri police. His once resplendent head of hair was now a memory, his slim athletic figure gave way to middle age spread; the curse of promotion to a desk job, though he still liked to get out in to the ‘war zone’ occasionally. The war zone, used to be the city, used to be areas of deprivation, where tough living forced tough choices on to people with no choice. God, he and his wife had talked about retiring to Turtle Island. Frusco watched the news on the slim portable T.V that was sandwiched between a row of unread books and the trophy his division won three years on the trot for the highest arrest and conviction rates. The trophy was now tarnished but then again what wasn’t? Barbara Dace was looking at him from the tiny TV screen, reading the major story tonight. In Norman’s mind, she was not tarnished. Norman Frusco during honest moments with himself, found Barbara Dace very attractive, he always had done. They went way back far too long for Frusco to care to count. It seemed that Norman and Barbara were always destined to be on parallel courses that were designed to cross. He pressed the intercom in front of him.
‘Where’s Montoya and LaPortiere?’ he let go of the switch before anyone would be foolish enough to reply.
It was eight o’clock and it had been a very long day. All Frusco wanted to do now was go home relax with a beer and take a month off. The chances of taking a month off were as remote as was relaxing, unless of course he got totally drunk. As his finger depressed the intercom switch again the door to his office opened, Frusco looked up. It was Montoya and LaPortiere.
‘Don’t you guys ever knock; I could have been having a private moment. Sit down.’
Frusco neither had the patience nor the will to further this line of conversation, knowing that for every jibe LaPortiere would repost with two, at least.
Rick sat. He answered his boss. ‘She’s still analysing the tape.’
‘Yeah, the techno boys have got their computers and microscopes out.’ Leroy chipped in.
Frusco leaned forward on his desk. ‘Rick, I want you to know that we have already placed an armed guard outside and inside your house. Ray and Jo-Lynn are perfectly safe.’
‘What I want to know is, how does that sick freak-show know anything about me?’
‘I don’t know but he seems to have made a link with you for some reason, but we can use that to our advantage.’ Frusco tried his best to sound confident; truth was he was worried.
8-55pm. Another long day. Agent O’Neil removed her reading glasses and rubbed her eyes. The static flicker of the television was causing her pupils to hopscotch. She scooped the cold remnants of fried chilli beef between her chopsticks and force-fed herself. If the job didn’t one day kill her, the diet certainly would. She longed for home, a cool bath, and a massage. The thermometer read a sticky 74 degrees that in actuality felt more like 94. She rewound the tape, now a copy, the lab boys were scrutinising every micrometer of the original. She decided to watch it one more time before leaving for the ‘comfort’ of her motel room. The tape whirred and locked. Georgina pressed the remote. The screen went blank, before an out of focus image of a man sitting tied and bound to a chair slowly sharpened. A figure dressed in black walked behind the bound man, his face was not visible. A hand removed the carpet tape that had been stuck across Max Dalton’s lips, ripping roughly from his bloodied mouth. His mouth was a mess. The teeth had been crudely hammered out, the lips split, swollen and pulpy.
Off screen the killer spoke one word.
Even this had been electronically disguised. He pushed the bound man’s shoulder. The words were barely audible spewing out of the mashed orifice that was once a mouth. Agent O’Neil turned the volume up and began to write down Max Dalton’s last words.
‘By the time you receive this; things will have progressed. I have a plan.’ Max is interrupted by the sound of the killer laughing; again it has been distorted, making it sound more grotesque. All the time he is pacing back and forth in the background. He tells Max to ‘Continue.’ and strikes the back of Max’s head with a stinging blow using his knuckles.
‘Mr Max Dalton is already...’ Fear is etched so deeply in Max’s eyes that a shiver runs up Georgina’s spine even though this is the seventh time she has viewed the tape. ‘Dead.’ Dalton’s voice quivers. ‘And now Detective Montoya, you will be looking for…’ Max Dalton stops reading and breaks down crying. ‘I can’t...I can’t do this.’
The killer walked around to face Max Dalton, his face still remaining out of shot. Slowly he began to beat Dalton’s body with a Hammer. The blows were carefully aimed at the bound man, designed to break a rib, shatter a collarbone, chip his elbows, pulp an eye socket. Georgina looked away from the screen as the hammer pummelled into Max Dalton’s groin. His screams distorted the sound recorded by the microphone. The screen went blank. Georgina guessed Dalton must have become unconscious at this point. When the image came back on, the date recorder on the bottom left hand corner of the image had moved on by two days. Dalton was still bound and looking like shit. He was crying uncontrollably mumbling his way through the rest of the message.
‘And by now Detective Montoya... you will be looking for Stephen England, or maybe even...someone else...’
At first nobody saw the photographs that were carefully placed behind Max Dalton, it was only on the third viewing that Agent O’Neil noticed them, the camera briefly but purposefully focused on them for no more than a second before the tape ended. The unmistakable images of Jo-Lynn Montoya and Ray. Photographs taken of Jo-Lynn kissing Ray goodbye in the morning, as his nanny was about to take him to school. The images were sharp, though taken with a telephoto lens, probably from a car parked nearby. The screen finally went blank, fading to black. Georgina let the tape run as her mind tried to absorb the information. As she leaned forward to turn the cassette off another piece of the puzzle revealed itself.
The killer’s voice rasped. ‘Tell Detective Montoya, I’m changing the rules of the game.’
‘You know, I feel very, very wicked.’ Karen Fuller smiled. She leaned across the car seat and kissed Charles Fleisher slowly, passionately on the lips. Her tongue parted his lips and entered his mouth, probing searching, tasting, licking. Charles responded equally passionately, sucking, biting, savouring. They had parked outside one of the properties that Charles was letting and knew to be unoccupied but lavishly furnished.
Karen pulled at the front of her loose fitting dress, exposing her delicately small but pert, tanned breasts. ‘It gets so hot, sometimes it’s hard to breathe. Don’t you think?’ Her southern drawl tried to excuse her actions on the weather but Charles knew better. ‘This does not look like the home of a real estate agent. Are you going to seduce me, Mr Fleisher?’ Karen kissed Charles again, this time she let her hand fall on to Charles groin, where she felt his already hardened penis.
‘No, I’m going to fuck you, Miss Fuller.’
‘Why Mr Fleisher, what would Harley say?’
Charles knew the answer to that, but somehow thought that the teacher wouldn’t understand about his relationship with his daughter, instead he put his hand on her breast and whispered ‘I want to fuck you.’ He said it with such passion that it didn’t even sound crude; to Karen’s ears it somehow sounded romantic, and it was just what she wanted to hear. Charles put his hand into his jacket pocket and withdrew a set of keys.
‘Charles, I’m going to give you a night to remember.’ Karen flicked her head back just as the main beam of a passing car exposed her cool beauty.
On the journey back to the motel Georgina thought over the developments of the day. She was tired and her head was beginning to pound. The bright lights from the oncoming traffic did nothing to soothe her pain and she was regretting not taking a couple of Advil tablets to ease the sharpness of the constant ache when she had the opportunity. She tried to think of brighter things, maybe she would phone her father when she got in and question him about the case, or take that bath like she had promised herself. As tomorrow was Saturday and one of the few foreseeable days where they might be able to sneak a little free time, Rick had invited her to his house for a barbeque.
‘Jo-Lynn wants to meet you, accept a little southern hospitality. It’s more of a barbeque actually, I hope you eat meat?’
She gratefully accepted, the prospect of another fast food meal and her stomach would surely rebel? With the afternoon off it would be a great opportunity to get to know the other side of the detectives, the private world of real people. Rick invited Leroy and Lia too. Georgina looked at the illuminated clock on the dashboard. 10-58pm. She briefly envied the girls in the typing pool with their 'nine to fives', briefly. Her job infringed on many aspects of her life, too many, the social part being the greatest intrusion. It was three months since she had been on any sort of a date, she could not remember the last time that she had made love to anyone but herself. She kept telling herself the sacrifice was worth it; that it would pay off with promotion. She laughed to herself in the car, wondering who she was trying to fool. Younger, less experienced men gained promotion above her; she stared at the soles of their shoes through the glass ceiling. If she complained she knew that was be a one way ticket to obscurity, relocation to some god-awful field office. Georgina knew the options, tough it out and be so much better than the rest so that they had no option to ignore her, or loose ambition and stay in the field, eating shit, taking shit and having shit fired at her from every angle.
The motel came within sight, its garish neon illumination buzzing quietly, proudly, to the world, praising its very existence. Insects battered off the windscreen in a kamikaze duel, harbingers of another muggy night. For another twenty bucks a night she could have rented a hotel room with air conditioning, instead it was another night listening to the vibrating swirl of the fan blades as they fought valiantly to redistribute the humid, heavy air and the noisy lovemaking of the hookers in room 22. She pulled the rented Lincoln to a halt outside number 24, turned the lights off and sat alone in the dark for a few moments. Letting her mind start to unwind a little, she closed her eyes and saw the hammer swinging toward her. Her eyes snapped open. Relaxing tonight was going to be a little more difficult than normal.
Narla needed the drink. She had slumped from the settee to the floor. Physically and mentally she could not reach a lower point. The images that bombarded her eyes were such a shock that she had to stop the tape on three occasions because she could no longer see the television through her tear streaming eyes. Her husband, the man she had vowed to love until parted by death, was stripping their daughter naked, even though she was crying and obviously distressed. He kept forcing her. She could hear his voice on the tape. ‘Mummy wants you to love Daddy, you do love me don’t you.’
The confused child nods. ‘You have to kiss Daddy to show him how much you love him...Kiss me.’
Harley sobbing leans forward and gently kisses her father cheek, the innocent way a child would kiss her father. ‘NO!..I TOLD YOU...’ Charles raises his voice. ‘On the lips.’
Narla stopped the tape, unable to watch further. The date on the corner of the tape made it over four years old. She scrambled through some of the other tapes retrieved from the summerhouse and found the latest tape. Six days old. She put it in the VCR. The image that appeared on the screen reviled Narla. Charles had obviously progressed in his corruption of their daughter. Straddled across her father, both of them naked smiling, laughing as though they were partaking in an innocent game. Narla hung her head and vomited on to the floor, she pushed away the tapes at the last moment. Totally drained of every emotion, Narla slumped backwards and lay there, listening to her daughter being raped by her husband, listening to Harley’s soft whispers, listening to Charles low moaning. The sound of his breathing becoming laboured. The grunting noise she knew all too well, the noise that he always made just before he comes. The noises mingled in her head, mixing, and growing louder and louder, until they were a spinning cacophony, a crashing symphony of defilement. Narla started to scream to make the noise go away, above it all she could hear Charles breathing and Harley saying ‘Yes, I love you Daddy.’ Narla needed to get away from the television. She placed her hands over her ears and continued to scream at the top of her voice until it echoed inside her head. She couldn’t hear the doorbell ringing. Life outside her head no longer made sense. All that made sense was the screaming white noise inside her head. She staggered forward and fell against the television set. Tumbling over it, pushing it backwards. Just before passing out Narla thought she saw someone standing in the room with her.
Leroy opened the door gently, trying not to wake Lia. He crept in the front room and noticed that there was no sign of her,
‘Must have gone to bed.’ he said to himself.
Not that he blamed her, waiting up night after night with no promise of when he’d be home was not what he would call fun. Leroy hit the remote control lying in the chair and flopped exhausted on to the seat. He lowered the volume of the TV set and scanned the channels thinking to himself how Bruce Springfield had got it right when he declared ‘fifty-nine channels and nothing on’. The shopping channel tried its best to sell Leroy a singing Marvin Gaye memorial doll, Leroy tried his best to stay awake, both failed. Sleep swept over him without protestation, Leroy kicked back on the reclining mechanism and within seconds succumbed. The faint drone of the ever present shopping channel salesperson receded and all was silent in Leroy’s world, save for the approach of dreams.
‘Uh...What the …’
Someone was screaming. Leroy woke with a start, confused, disorientated. He looked around, trying to obtain his bearings, trying to fix on the noise. It wasn’t screaming. It was loud, very loud talking.
‘AREN’T THESE DOLLS BEAUTIFUL. GET THEM WHILE YOU CAN, THESE BABIES ARE GOING TO BE WORTH TRIPLE WHAT YOU PAY FOR THEM NOW IN JUST THREE YEARS TIME. ISN’T THAT RIGHT KIRSTIN?’
‘YOU’RE NOT JOKING, BOB. REMEMBER OUR LIBERACE MEMORIAL DOLL, EIGHTY-FIVE BUCKS TWO FALLS AGO? ONE SOLD AT AUCTION IN MICHIGAN FOR OVER FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS AND THAT’S NOT ALL; OUR MARVIN GAYE MEMORIAL DOLL COMES COMPLETE WITH A CERTIFICATE OF AUTHENTICATION AND THIS UNIQUE PRESENTATION BOX. WE ARE CONFIDENT THAT YOU WON’T BUY A BETTER INVESTMENT THIS YEAR THAN THE MARVIN GAYE MEMORIAL DOLL.’
Leroy stared at the screen finally comprehending where the noise was coming from; his arm had fallen asleep and gone numb, pressing his weight on the remote handset’s volume button. He shook his arm trying to get some life to return to the dead limb. The remote fell to the floor as a rush of blood brought pins and needles along with restored feeling.
He bent down and reduced the volume. He stared at the plastic facsimile of Marvin Gaye.
‘Brother, you better off dead than seeing this shit.’ Leroy rose from the armchair. Daylight flashed a tentative eye through the small gap in the curtains. The clock on the wall told him it was 7-50, Leroy knew that it must be later than that because the battery had been running down for the past six weeks, it had been losing up to five minutes a day, though Lia usually reset it at least once a week. Leroy had been meaning to buy a new battery but it was way down a long list of things that he meant to do and never seemed to get the time to get around to. He ambled to the bathroom quietly, not wanting to wake Lia up, not just yet. He showered and shaved and put on his towelling robe, ready to make breakfast. Breakfast in bed with Lia sounded good to Leroy, and after breakfast maybe a little love. Leroy certainly felt the need of a little comfort after the past few days. He stood over the stove, shuffling the bacon rashers back and forward, trying not to weld them to the non-stick pan. He flipped the eggs over and let them rest against the blistering surface for only a minute before removing them and placing them carefully onto the hot buttered waffles. As bad a cook as he was, Leroy’s stomach was doing a tango in anticipation of some sustenance. He poured some orange juice and two cups of freshly brewed coffee, placed them all on a tray and walked down the hall to the bedroom. The door was pushed too, as usual; Leroy opened it with his back while keeping the tray in front of him.
‘Hey, sleepyhead, time for breakfast.’ Leroy turned and faced an empty bed. The smile faded from his face. ‘Baby?’ He put the tray on the bed and moved swiftly down the corridor, knocking open the second bedroom door, empty. The bathroom, the kitchen, the lounge, the toilet, all-empty. And it slowly dawned on him that ‘empty’ was the correct adjective. How he didn’t notice until now baffled him. Even when he was in the bathroom he failed to spot that all of Lia’s wash things had gone. Leroy went to her wardrobe and pulled it open. The clanging hangers echoed around the house, sounding the death knell of a home whose very heart had been removed. Stuck with sticky tape to a shelf where Lia used to keep her winter woollens was an envelope marked Leroy. He snatched the envelope and sat down on the bed scattering the orange juice and coffee, sending the liquids hurtling together in to an undrinkable concoction before they finally came to rest on the waffles. Leroy pushed the tray back toward the centre of the bed, leaving a trail of orangey-brown fluid on the crisp white sheets. The envelope was not sealed, the flap springing open almost too obligingly. Leroy pulled the neatly folded piece of paper out. A waft of Lia’s perfume, ‘Jewel’, a waft of Lia…a memory.
I have tried to talk to you on many occasions but it seems that time is our enemy. We just don’t seem to have enough of it to spend with each other. I know that things will not improve because you love your work so much, maybe more than me. I know that sounds harsh but I really believe that you can live without me; I wish the same could be said about your work. I have waited and waited and waited; I can see my life passing me by. I need to find life before it’s too late. I have stocked up on groceries for you and the freezer is full. Don’t try to find me. I have taken two thousand dollars from our savings account to get me by. Don’t hold harsh thoughts about me, my heart is breaking but this is something I have to do.
Love Lia xxx
Leroy felt lost, an empty pit opened in his stomach, which he felt his heart would surely drop in to. A feeling of desolation and rage swept over him simultaneously and he could do nothing but sit on the bed and cry.
The police arrived within ten minutes of Narla’s phone call. A detective, fattish, going bald, got out of the car with surprising agility for his size. Narla watched through the lounge window sitting wrapped in a blanket. She was holding a cup of sweet tea. A sense of relief at seeing approaching safety made Narla sob quietly. Narla dreaded Charles returning during the time spent waiting for the police, breezing in with his usual cheery disposition and his ‘Hi, Honey I’m home’ falseness.
Norman Frusco stood at the door and rang the bell. Before the chime had finished, Harley had the door open and welcomed the detective in. His first impressions of 14162 Harpenders Grove was that the owners were far from poor. On the way down, Norman had the station run over any details that they may have had on the owners. Apart from two unpaid parking violations the Fleisher’s were model citizens.
‘Come in, detective.’ Narla’s voice was trembling as much as her hands. There was a hot sickness in her stomach. The image of Harley curled up on the bed wouldn’t leave Narla’s mind. She wondered about the damage both mentally and physically to her daughter and was amazed at how she could manage to keep the abuse a secret. To Narla it seemed too much of a burden for a girl to have to carry, it was too much for anyone to carry.
‘It’s Captain Frusco, but you can call me Norman.’ Norman smiled trying to put Narla at ease. He wasn’t fully aware of all the facts but knew enough for a little gentle diplomacy. A policewoman entered behind Frusco, they followed Narla in to the lounge. Frusco admired the decoration of the house. The simple colour scheme, the tastefully arranged but expensive furniture. The paintings on the wall, not by famous artist’s but originals. Aesthetically pleasing, gentle on the eye without being pretentious.
‘I’ve brought along Policewoman Reynolds, if there is anything you feel uneasy about telling me, you might find it easier.’
Narla was nodding, already ahead of Frusco. Guilt adding to the plethora of mixed emotions swimming around in her head. Frusco and Reynolds sat opposite Narla occupying different ends of the three-seat settee. Norman Frusco placed a voice-activated tape recorder on the glass table that separated them. ‘Whenever you’re ready Miss O’Connell. Whenever you feel fit enough to tell us.’
Narla cleared her throat, coughed and swallowed nervously.
‘Daddy?’ Ray shook his father’s arm gently, trying to rock his father from a deep slumber. ‘Daddy, Uncle Leroy’s on the phone...He sounds strange...Daddy.’ Ray shook his father once more. The words began to filter through to Rick Montoya’s sub-conscious; his son’s voice was miles away, like a sonar, getting nearer and nearer until it breached the boundary between dreams and reality.
‘Daddy, Uncle Leroy’s on the phone he sounds weird, I think he’s crying.’
Rick woke up. The bed was empty, Rick’s mind instantly started to assemble information; he looked at his son, standing in front of him in his Spiderman pyjamas.
‘Okay, Ray. Tell Uncle Leroy I’ll be there in a moment.’
Ray trotted off outside the bedroom and down the stairs. Rick could hear his son telling his partner that ‘Daddy would be right down.’
Rick sat up in bed and rubbed his face. Today was barbeque day. Jo-Lynn would already be at the supermarket buying provisions. He stretched his legs and inhaled a lungful of Turtle Island’s finest air. The air conditioning unit hummed, breathing out cool air, making the environment a little more liveable. Rick stood and briefly glanced outside the window. Clear blue skies and the sun already hammering out a fierce heat, ‘today’s gonna be another hot one’ Rick said to no one but himself as he pulled on a pair of shorts and headed out for the phone.
‘Yeah, what’s wrong, you an Lia not comin to our little wing ding?’ The smile on Rick’s face shrank as Leroy told him that Lia had left him ‘for good this time’
‘I’ll be right over...you stay cool.’ Rick put the phone down and called his son who was happily ensconced in front of the T.V. watching cartoons. ‘Ray, call Korjca and see if she’ll look after you until mom comes home, I gotta go to your Uncle Leroy’s. I’m leaving a note for Mommy attached to the fridge.’
Ray continued watching the cartoon; his hand stretched out and grabbed the receiver of the phone in the living room. He pressed one of the automatic dial numbers stored in its memory without even looking. By the time Rick showered and dressed Korjca was ready to take charge of Ray. Rick kissed his son, pinned the note to the fridge and was heading over Independence Bridge within twenty-five minutes of the call. Lia leaving Leroy was not a huge surprise to Rick, she had confided to Jo-Lynn on numerous occasions how unhappy she was with Leroy working all the hours that God sent. Jo-Lynn sympathised and made sure that she told Rick, certain that the message would get back to Leroy, which it did. But the job was worse than a mistress; it broke marriages and relationships indiscriminately without infidelity.
’m watching you,’
Jo-Lynn Montoya moved her trolley around the aisles, picking up various groceries.
His heart thumped, the excitement was almost too much to endure. The feeling of light-headedness virtually consumed him. He could take her at any time...any time at all. As he approached her, each step became a tiny orgasm, closer and closer. The feeling exquisite. He so much wanted to feel her warm blood over his body.
‘All good things’ became his new mantra. He’d make them pay; He’d make them all pay.
The door to Leroy’s home was open; Rick didn’t wait for an invitation. He found Leroy sitting watching some home movies on the video.
‘She’s gone…it’s like she’s dead, it’s like I’m dead.’ Leroy turned to face his partner and was not ashamed to show the grief etched on to his tear stained face.
‘What are we gonna do with you?’ Rick sat down next to Leroy and hugged him, while his partner sobbed uncontrollably.
‘Jeans and a tee shirt, or shorts and a vest? I don’t know why I’m asking you, you’re not much help.’ Georgina threw the clothes at her reflected image in the mirror. She had been awake for two hours, placed calls at the station and hospital plus one back at the bureau to see if they had come up with anything fresh. All the calls drew a blank; it seemed that she would be able to take her half-day’s leave after all. A half-day off during any investigation was a luxury, one after only a couple of days was almost unheard of, it was a sign of what little progress had been made despite the evidence. A fact that depressed Georgina, but she would take her time knowing the next free day might be a long way away.
‘Shorts and a vest plus plenty of sun block.’ She finally made up her mind, dressed and put on a pair of Nike Air’s on her feet. She looked sporty and fit; neither attribute was a lie.
Georgina decided to take another tour of the Island, this time by car before going to Detective Montoya’s. She threw some cold sodas into a rucksack along with her camera, donned a white baseball cap and headed for her rented Lincoln. She pulled the soft hood of the convertible back and decided to drive semi alfresco rather than breathe the manufactured cool air of the car’s air conditioning. Sunglasses on, she hit the highway toward Turtle Island.
Dr Martinez bounded up the steps two at a time rather than use the elevator. He spoke into his cordless phone and listened in breathless excitement.
‘Good...and what are his vitals...excellent.’
The news that Stephen England was out of his coma was the first bit of good news that day. Some days were totally devoid of good news. On those days Martinez seemed to spend his entire shift handing out bereavement counselling numbers and crisis support cards.
He thought he heard a noise, a creak on the landing. Thirteen-year-old Dolan Cooke quickly pressed his mouse and the screen in front of him changed from a lurid pornographic photo of a young girl barely his age giving head, to something far more innocuous. God, he hoped it wasn’t his mother again. He shifted in his seat, pulled his tee shirt over his groin and listened…nothing. He hadn’t heard the car return, it was just guilt-ridden paranoia. His heart throbbed; his cock throbbed. He clicked back on to the porno site, hoping to download an mpeg, something he could really get his teeth into and saw the small inviting advertising banner constantly flashing. A red skull and crossbones. Underneath the banner an eighteen-inch prosthetic penis was being gorged by three young women, another site was offering the best in animal sex; an equally naked woman appeared to be engaged in coitus with a horse. So much to choose from. Dolan’s hand hovered between the adverts, undecided. He clicked on the red skull and crossbones, ‘DeathCam.net’. The page opened with a flashing Skull interspersed with a picture of Max Dalton’s crushed and bloodied face. Curiosity drew him deeper into the web site.
‘This is so cool.’
Another creak on the landing, this time Dolan, already too absorbed by the images of violence in front of him did not turn, his eight year old sister watched over his shoulder as image after image after image loaded, each worse than the last. He turned his head.
Georgina O’Neil decided to take another look at the houses that ran along the river. The victims were both held for a period of days before their murders, maybe longer. Both of them had made their exit via the river, one alive, one very much dead. Georgina surmised that these houses would be as good a place as any to hold the victims. The location was certainly quiet enough; you could torture, kill or maim in the open, let alone locked away within the confines of a house and nobody would hear you scream. She had parked the car on the grass verge, which ran along the main highway in Turtle Island then walked a mile or so, following the river where she could. Stopping only to view through a pair of binoculars at the numerous houses that were dotted along the banks. Any one of them could hold the answer. She watched a boy, his father and grandfather pitching balls and practicing batting, in a makeshift baseball diamond outside one of the houses. Memories of her tomboy childhood flooded back. Shooting baskets with her father whose rudimentary knowledge of the game wasn’t too bad considering his Irish origins. The sun beat through her cap causing beads of sweat to form on her brow and run down her face. She wiped her face dry using a small towel taken from the motel and took a long cool swig of coke before continuing on her journey. Georgina carried on walking for a further half mile and had counted five agents boards ‘for sale or let’ in the one and a half miles covered. Three were on the river; two set a little way back, one bordering the forest. She had barely completed an eighth of the rivers circumference around the island. Viewing the empty properties would be heavy on manpower and time, especially with such a small local force. She sat briefly, to rest in the long grasses, enjoying the sun beating over her, realising that a house search of the empty properties could also prove to be a futile waste of time if the killer was a local, happily ensconced in marital bliss. For all she knew, it could have been the father playing ball with his son or even the grandfather. She shook her head trying to clear the jumbled mess of thoughts, hoping that one solid idea would stick that could lead them to their man. Her growling stomach told her lunch was not far away and she remembered the barbeque.
Georgina looked at her watch 12-53, ‘time to go’ she spoke to the field, almost with the expectation of a reply.
She stood and walked back to her car. As she walked she swished her hands through the long grasses playfully pushing them to one side, suddenly beginning to relax for the first time in weeks. She promised herself a holiday when this case was over. Two weeks in this field with a supply of drink, good food, some choice reading and maybe a friend, sounded just like heaven at the moment. She stopped to take another gulp from her bottle; the soda was starting to get warm. Taking her bearings, Georgina wondered to herself whether the killer had been in the very field where she stood, maybe in the very spot. The notion uneased her, leaving her feeling vulnerable. Not easily spooked, she had the feeling that eyes were boring in to the back of her head. She quickly swivelled round. Her hand instinctively reached for her weapon a 9mm Smith and Wesson. More of an up close and personal type of weapon but she was an expert shot and felt confident with the gun’s relative lightness. Only this time the weapon was back at the motel locked away in the room safe. Her car was little more than six hundred yards away but her legs suddenly felt paralysed and as rational as she thought she was, Georgina could not help but feel vulnerable and exposed. The feeling made her uneasy, it went against every piece of training that she had learned. Instinctively she knew she was being stalked, something primal was awakened in the field and her intuition was telling her to get the hell out of the field. Georgina started walking toward her car, she knew it lay just beyond the field, parked on the verge. She dipped into the rucksack and searched for the key while she walked. Her pace quickened then suddenly she was jogging. The edge of the field was getting closer and closer. All the time she was looking, scanning every tree, watching for possible hiding places, every nook and cranny. The long grass by its very nature was the perfect cover; Georgina knew she could be running straight into danger, into the arms of who knows what. Panic was now beginning to replace any level-headed detachment she should be applying to the situation as a professional. Her behaviour was completely irrational, but she kept on running until she left the field and headed down the grassy bank to the verge where her car was parked. She already had the key in her tightened grasp and plunged it into its waiting socket and twisted. The central locking popped reassuringly. She pulled the door open and dived into the seat, gasping for air. Quickly, Georgina looked over her shoulder and checked the back seats then pressed the interior locks on the doors. She finally began to relax, tilted her head back, resting against the head restraint and briefly closed her eyes, trying to regain her composure and make some sense of her unreasonable behaviour. She breathed deeply, her hand automatically fumbled for the radio cassette. A little music might help. Some lead singer from a heavy metal band was singing bring your daughter to the slaughter. Her fingers pushed home her cassette, and the gentle sound of Alison Krauss singing came through the speakers. Georgina’s lips started to mime along with the words on the overplayed tape. A feeling of normality was returning. She opened her eyes, and there it was, on the dashboard inside the car. A child’s tooth; a solitary, white, tiny milk tooth. The tooth appeared to be old, it certainly didn’t look fresh, there was no trace of blood or tissue and the root was dry. Georgina opened her rucksack and pulled out a transparent evidence bag. She picked the tooth up with the tweezers she had in her make-up bag.
The drive back to the precinct was tense but without further incident. She left her car to be dusted for prints and other DNA matter the intruder may have left behind. After a brief phone call to Norman Frusco, she borrowed a car from the car pool and drove out to Rick’s for the barbeque.
Stephen England was sitting up in bed. His eyes had blackened, his nose and jaw was broken, as was every tooth in his mouth up to his molars. His cheekbone was shattered and his skull was fractured in two places. From his neck down to his waist he had another fifteen broken or fractured bones, including his elbow. Stephen England was very unlucky to be alive; the living nightmare to which he was trapped made a life spent in this condition nothing to be envied. He did not know how he got into this condition and found comprehending anything other than the fearsome memories that flashed through his mind impossible. Who the strange girl was who was holding his hand?
Dr Martinez shone a torch into Stephen’s eyes looking for pupil dilation, only the left eye dilated the right was blown. Indecipherable words spewed rambling and incoherently from his pulpy mouth. Cara Morton sat quietly, waiting patiently for the doctor to finish his examination. She had a thousand questions that were burning down the length of a fuse.
he temperature on the thermometer read 97 Fahrenheit, Georgina looked at her watch it was a little after three in the afternoon. Police guards sat discreetly across the street watching the house. She recognised the large ginger headed man from the precinct as Detective Walberg and his partner as Officer Collins, both of them were assigned to protect Rick’s wife and son. She waved to them before pressing the doorbell. Walberg lifted his coffee cup in salute to O’Neil. She watched Collins lean over and whisper in his partner’s ear. Whatever he said made Walberg smile. Georgina couldn’t hear but had worked long enough around a predominantly male workforce to guess that the content of his amusement probably involved her body. The shorts that she wore, while not tight were short and the vest was loose and baggy, neither items designed to flatter, but O’Neil knew that most women could wear a sack and invite sexual abuse. Walberg’s tongue snaked and this time it was Collins turn to laugh.
‘Come on, come on; open up.’ Georgina was pleading with whoever was going to reach the door first. She never did like being in a shop window and it pleased her even less to give letches like Collins and Walberg a hard-on. She could hear noise and the sound of footsteps running to the door. Small feet, the sound of a child.
‘I’LL GET IT.’ A wee voice called.
Ray opened the door and his face became a Christmas tree whose lights had just fused.
‘Oh.’ he said not bothering to hide his disappointment. He turned ignoring Georgina and called. ‘It’s some woman.’
‘Some woman.’ Georgina thought to herself, feeling the juxtaposition of her sexuality from the males of this world whose hormones had yet to kick in. From the North to the South Pole in a matter of seconds, another eight years and he would be tying his dick to his leg to keep it down. Ray trotted off without another word.
Georgina called after him. ‘Hey Ray, you not gonna say hello?’
Ray stopped. ‘How’d you know my name?’
‘I know lots about you.’ She lied. ‘I’m a friend of your dad’s. I work with him.’
‘You a policewoman?’ Ray turned his head to face Georgina.
‘Something like that.’
A woman came from the kitchen.
‘I’m sorry, has little Ray not invited you in?’ Jo-Lynn Montoya was holding out her hand as she walked down the hall. Her grip was firm and warm, her eyes smiling.
‘Rick has had to go out. A bit of a personal crisis but he said he won’t be long.’
‘Oh...I’m sorry. Is everything alright?’
‘Yeah, come on in. Don’t look so concerned. You’re Miss O’Neil right?’
‘Well the problem's Leroy, Rick’s partner.’ Jo-Lynn began to explain. ‘Leroy is having the crisis actually.’
‘What’s wrong?’ Georgina said. She followed Jo-Lynn through to the kitchen. Ray ran ahead of them.
‘I guess I can tell you, considering you’re a work colleague an’ all. Leroy’s girlfriend Lia has upt and left him. The big old softy is pretty upset. So Rick’s over there doing his ‘she was no good for you anyway’ speech.’ She laughed ‘Not that that’s true. It’s quite ironic, Lia was the best thing that could happen to Leroy.’
As Georgina entered the kitchen she noticed another woman standing near the sink. She was preparing salad, washing vegetables and dicing tomatoes and onions.
‘Georgina, let me introduce you to Korjca. Ray’s nanny.’ Jo-Lynn explained ‘I am a working mother, so Korjca here helps keep my little one in line during the day and school holidays.’
The young white woman turned around and said 'Hello' her accent was eastern European. She was 19 or 20. Slightly overweight but the weight flattered her features, her hair was dark brown, pulled back, secured with an elastic. She wore a straight skirt, which touched her knees and a crisp white blouse, which nearly matched her complexion.
‘Her second name is something unpronounceable.’ Jo-Lynn smiled.
Korjca laughed. ‘Piekarska.’
‘See I told you.’
Georgina shook Korjca's hand.
Korjca smiled. ‘Hello...I’m from Poland, so you must forgive my English.’ She seemed to be apologising, there was unsureness in her voice, even though her English was far better than Georgina's Polish ever would be. ‘So my English is still not too good, but I am learning.’
‘Yeah, I teach her.’ Ray sidled in to grab some attention.
‘We were going to eat outside but I think it may be too hot.’ Jo-Lynn was standing at the open rear door leading in to the garden.
‘I like the heat, it can get a little sticky but when you’re raised in Maryland you learn to appreciate the hot days.’ Georgina joined her at the door and looked down the length of the garden.
A paved patio area was home to a sun lounge and a table. To the left was a hardcore area with some familiar looking painted markings and a basketball hoop. Further up was a large lawn with a huge hole being dug at the very foot of the garden.
‘Good, I like the heat too; I was just saying that so as to be polite.’
‘It’s a nice garden.’
‘Don’t you mind the mess at the end there. That’s where we’re having a pool built, come down I’ll show you what we have planned.’ Jo-Lynn stepped into the furnace of heat outside; Ray pushed past Georgina and ran down the garden shouting at the top of his lungs with his arms outstretched pretending to be a plane. Jo-Lynn and Georgina walked up the garden toward the construction area. The sun was high in a cloudless sky and for a brief time the world seemed at ease.
‘I don't blame Lia for leaving Leroy. The job takes too much from relationships; time, energy...don't you find that?’ Jo-Lynn spoke as she walked.
‘During training they prepare you for everything except the sacrifices, both personal and mental. You seem to be coping though.’ Georgina replied.
Jo-Lynn laughed sardonically. ‘Yeah, I'm coping but I feel I shouldn’t have to cope. Ray suffers. He misses his father. I try to be here as much as possible but there are times when it seems I don't see my son for days. That's not unusual for the both of us because of our work commitments; there was a time last year where I never saw Ray for nine days. Korjca is invaluable, I don’t know how other families cope, families that can’t afford to buy help.’
They reached the large hole; mounds of earth were piled to one side of the rectangle ditch. A small digger lay dormant a few yards away.
‘The compensations for our sacrifices, the loss of time and family against a nice house, a new car every other year, a pool and a foreign holiday. We truly are children of the new millennium.’ Jo-Lynn sighed.
‘A beautiful son. Some people would swap the world for a child.’ Georgina was watching Ray bounce a basketball on the hardcore. He was throwing the ball up to the hoop.
‘Yeah, I know, it would seem that when you have everything you never realise what you truly have, only what you don’t. I should thank God. I know how precious a child’s life can be.’
Georgina knew that Jo-Lynn was alluding to Jordan. ‘I was sorry to hear about your loss.’
Jo-Lynn stared into the freshly dug pit, remembering a day three years previously when she was staring into a different pit. ‘Yeah, everyone’s sorry.’ She turned and looked at her son trying to shoot a hoop. ‘His father said he’d help him practice today…another broken promise.’
‘Put your weight on your back foot, then lean in to the shot.’ Georgina shouted to Ray.
Ray did as told and put the ball clean through the hoop. He yelped with delight.
‘Rick promised, hand on heart, that he would shoot some baskets today.’
‘But he wasn't to know about Leroy?’
‘No....but there is always something.' Jo-Lynn began to walk back to the house.
‘Do you think Ray would allow me to practice a few shots with him?’
Jo-Lynn stopped. ‘Are you serious?’
‘Deadly. I may be white but I can shoot hoop.’ Georgina threw an imaginary basketball at an equally imaginary hoop.
‘No, that’s not what I meant...I mean of course you can. Ray has been on to me an’ Korjca all morning. Ever since his father left this morning. Tell you the truth I may be black but I ain’t no good. Korjca plays with him sometimes, but right now she’s more use to me in the kitchen, another place that's not really my domain, I’m happier in court.’
Georgina and Jo-Lynn walked together back up the garden toward the hardcore area where Ray was practicing shooting.
‘Rick mentioned that you were a partner in a practice just out of Springfield.’
‘Yeah, it’s just small. Mainly divorce work, lord knows there’s enough of that, and a few local issues, planning that sort of thing, nothing too exciting but that’s the way I want it. My partner Phillip Galloway, had to defend a man charged with murder about a year ago, domestic violence, but most of the big stuff goes straight to the attorneys in Missouri.’
They stopped at the edge of the miniature basketball court.
Ray looked sideways at his mother and totally missed the shot.
‘What you say if Miss Georgina here wants to practice with you?’
Ray looked Georgina up and down disapprovingly, while bouncing the ball.
‘But mum, she’s...’
‘White.’ Georgina chipped in
‘A girl.’ Ray said with disgust.
‘Now Ray, you know what your Mama says about working with minorities.’
Okay.’ Ray groaned reluctantly giving in.
Georgina smiled and stepped onto the court
‘Ray, like my husband and myself, never see colour in skin, only the heart that beats behind it. Good or bad.’
‘I guess that’s twice that I've put my foot in my mouth today.’
‘Nonsense.’ Jo-Lynn bent down to her son’s level and spoke to him sternly. ‘Ray, I want you to play nice. No rough stuff.’
Ray smiled his best, most mischievous smile
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