For Fun challenge from a buddy: Purple prose, noir detective, “Australianise it”, Beginnings

Cameron O’Toole took another shot of golden brown Irish whisky. He was down and out, slumming it in a bar down the sleazy end of town, and he was lower than the hem of a fifties Catholic novice’s habit. He rolled the highball glass watching the light, from the half-dozen bulbs that lit the back of the slug-dented expanse of timber that served as a counter, reflect off its heart warming contents.

Two years ago Ruth- Anne Royce had left him, and he had felt relieved for awhile, but she emptied the savings account and hadn’t paid the landlord for two months before she left. She’d detested the fact that he moonlighted as a PI, and had harangued him mercilessly from dawn to dusk. Tonight he was as restless as the son of an Irish redhead, and a Scottish rebel was genetically modified to be, and as disappointed as a man five feet from the girl he loves, but serving as a stand-in body guard while she flirted outrageously with handsome Squatter Taylor, the lowest sneaky snake this side of the Yarra.

Jemima Sutherbourne, as sweet and curvy a blonde as a man might ever lay eyes on, had a taste for the bad boys gone wild. He had half a mind to call her rich old man, a judge who lived to put away the type of slimy low downs she was making conversation with right now. His thoughts were interrupted by twenty one year old Jim Jackson, the tough orphan who ran the bar: if not on paper, in reality. His old man had disappeared when he was fourteen in a shipping disaster, and his old lady was very fond of the perks of running a bar this end of town. She was a retired and rich widow now, while Jim was as tough as seasoned Kangaroo hide. His punch was fast as a whip and harder than a cricket ball, and he took no nonsense, especially if he thought his profit margins might be affected. His twice broken and overly large nose was the distorted image through Cam’s smeared highball glass now. He spoke low and insistently, “Cam, sober up or I’m, gonna get Bruiser to drag you off that side of the bar, and shove you in a yellow cab.”
Cam gulped. You didn’t argue with Jim. Cam spoke, and even he was seriously surprised at how hard it was to articulate what he wanted to say. “ Pleass, I’m meant to be looking after Miss Sut-terburn over there. Don’t put Bruiser onna me.” Jim glared at him for a second, and then snatched away the whisky. “Coffee for you, Cam. You need to sober up if you’re gonna be drivin’.”

Jim sent Molly his attractive barmaid and worthy waitress out with a mug of black coffee and scrambled eggs on toast. She was a bouncy brunette with bountiful bazoomas, and a sweet sincere smile. She swayed past Cam with the refreshments and placed the dishes on the counter of, and her backside in the seat of, a booth in the darkest corner of the bar. She crooked her finger at Cam and patted the seat next to her, and smiled her most winning smile. He pulled myself up on the bar, and walked slowly towards her.
“You’re not too sozzled, Cam. This’ll put some zip back in ya. I cooked the eggs the way you like ‘em.”
Molly never failed to cheer Cam up. He said, “You’ve been workin’ hard all night, let’s share the eggs.” She smiled at him again, and he wondered why she didn’t fire his engine,raise his blood pressure, anything. They’d almost been an item many a time, and young Jim wasn’t past being a match maker when he thought no-one gave a two-up penny. She had her back to the bar, so Cam sat on the other side of the booth. She got that damned crease between her pretty eyebrows, and then smiled again and leaned over the table giving Cam an eyeful of her choice cleavage. Molly had beautiful bazoomas, not a doubt in anyone’s mind, but Jemima was his serious sheila of choice. He’d had a drink with Moll once, but they hadn’t even kissed. He had a strange moment of clarity. Is that what’s wrong with me? I can’t enjoy what’s freely available. He was staring down Molly’s cleavage, unaware that she had got that crease between her eyebrows again, when two unexpected things happened.
A hand as hard and cold as a slab of ice slapped his face backwards, and a shot rang out at the front of the room. He was shaking his head and moving forward as fast as he could, when two things hit him with the force of the Wangaratta express. Jim was lying in front of the bar bleeding from a shoulder wound, and Bruiser was knocked out next to him. The broken shards and unmistakable smell of a two pint bottle of whisky were all around his body. Jemima, Squatter, and his two pugilistically countenanced mates were nowhere in sight. She’d left in such a hurry her sequin-encrusted purse was laying discarded alone, inside the open front door. Jim gasped, pressing his wadded up jacket to his haemorrhaging shoulder, “She didn’t want to go with ‘em. She was looking for yur.” Jim passed out, and Cam stood up, shaking like a sapling in a storm. Molly was behind the bar calling for an ambulance. “Bloody hell!” I yelled. Every face in the ominously silent bar turned towards me. The dismal draft through the empty doorway sobered him, and froze him to his leather-clad feet.

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Cats Experiment

Mayberry Schultz had carefully built a reputation as the best vet in this small town situated on the Hume Highway. He was a question mark of a man; so stooped in the back he curved distinctly forward from the waist, while his thin legs with their shuffling gait seemed to be perpendicular to his path. His practice consisted mainly of pet cats, who had met with an accident on the aforementioned thoroughfare. Despite his years of experience operating on mangled and squashed animals, he continued to be amazed by two things: the prodigious resilience of the cat, and the animal’s attraction to thin, intellectual single ladies. Of course, their town held only a small, aging population and an intellectual was any person who could complete The Age crossword in under an hour. That is of course if you did not count the retired Professor Pennworthy who had completed a PHD in Biomedicine.

Rotown only had one officially single intellectual lady. Mayberry didn’t think women who’d been widowed a few years counted. You had to be a bonafide spinster to merit the term, and Miss Stern certainly was one. Cynthia Stern was a mousey haired rail of a woman, aged somewhere between forty-five and sixty depending on who you asked. Her eyes were bright blue and soul-piercing. Her hair was carefully arranged into tight curls, that were fifty percent gray. She admitted to feeding two hundred cats, and enjoying the howling and mewling of the large colony of strays that lived in the old timber yard on the west boundary of her property. On a full moon she reported seeing the colony of cats in congregation surrounding a large apricot tom whose throaty meows were answered with a chorus of yowls from the gathered felines. She looked forward to the subsequent births of kittens, and judging by the softening of her visage reserved solely for these furry bundles, she loved cats more than people.

Mayberry and Peter Pennworthy spent many an evening discussing cats both wild and domestic. They enjoyed a beer together on each other’s verandahs, and discussed their lives. Sometimes they wondered why they stayed in Rotown. It didn’t even have a pub anymore. They both travelled into Shepparton once a week for a darts competition night at the Royal Hotel. They had been friends for eight years, four months and 25 days when Peter made a strange request: Would Mayberry meet him at the local cemetery
at 10pm the following Monday? Mayberry was taken aback that Peter would ask to meet somewhere 10 kilometres away, but he thought of him as a mostly sensible fellow so he agreed.

It was a night lit by only a pale, sickle moon. Mayberry took the torch from his glove box to light the way. Soon he saw Peter’s familiar figure outlined against a large tombstone. Peter wasted no time in explaining why he had asked for the secret meeting. For many years his ambitions had been thwarted regarding research. He desired to finally finish his controlled study on the hormone changes in cats when they suffered serious trauma. His research grants had stopped exactly ten years ago when he was close to a breakthrough. If he could find a few more cats to study he was sure he would have the key to shortening healing times in human surgical patients.
“I have a friend in human medicine who encourages me. Would you help me?”
“How can I help, exactly?”said Mayberry.
” Let me be your assistant when you care for the next cat that has an accident.”
“Well, that might be at least a month. Usually there is a sharp increase in November when all the stores start ordering Semi-trailer loads of Christmas stuff, but I’ll say yes.”
Peter nodded. “I’ll need to take a small sample of blood, every hour during the cat’s recovery period.”
Mayberry frowned. “As long as it’s small, just a few drops.”
Peter hesitated, looking unusually inscrutable, and then nodded.
As Mayberry drove away from the cemetery he had a feeling he would live to regret his words.

Mayberry didn’t see Peter for the next two days. To add variety to his veterinary experience and interest to his life, Mayberry had taken up a Pro bono consultant’s role to a nearby wildlife shelter which gave him the chance to help sick and injured Wallabies, Kangaroos, Koalas and Possums. He stayed away overnight to assist the shelter owner in caring for two joeys that had been orphaned by the unauthorized shooting of their mothers. He was bleary eyed and almost incoherent by the time he finished up at the shelter and headed back to Rotown. He was stunned to see Cynthia Stern standing in his driveway, when he pulled up on the graveled strip that ran between his clinic and house. She waved but as usual her mouth remained a straight line. Mayberry sighed as he stepped out of his vehicle.

She stood as erect as a sergeant major at the end of Mayberry’s drive. Her blue polyester day dress and immaculate navy cardigan were reminiscent of a uniform. Mayberry swallowed awkwardly and she spoke first. Her clear deep voice rang in his ears.
“Mr Schultz, two of my cats were run over last night. This is unprecedented!”
He opened his mouth to speak, but she continued. “The only person who offered aid was Professor Pennworthy, but he has been closeted with the sole surviving cat for the last twenty four hours, and won’t answer my calls or let me into the clinic. I tried to call you several times in the wee hours”, she trumpeted, “but you did not answer.”
Mayberry shuddered and swallowed hard to moisten his dry throat.
“I was caring for a Kangaroo joey”, he squeaked.
“That may be well and good, but your main practice is here, is it not?”
Mayberry longed for a hot snack and a nap, but he had to get rid of the irritating woman. He tried to pull himself as erect as possible and looked Ms. Stern in the eye. “I’ll see to it straight away, and call you shortly.”
He marched as fast as he could to the clinic and slammed the door. He locked the door, and leant against it. He had known he was going to regret his words to Peter. What the hell have you been up to, Pete? He thought.

The clinic was quiet except for the faintest sound of purring coming from the clinic. That’s odd, he thought, but it could mean good news. He looked down the hall and saw the unmistakable shadow of Ms. Stern through the frosted glass panel on the left of the door. He felt as close as he ever got to being angry. I’ll make a cup of coffee before I deal with her request.
He went into the break room, filled the electric kettle, and turned it on. The sounds from the surgery grew louder. The purring throbbed in his ears; he heard the sound of breaking glass, and loud meowing. What?
“Pete”, he called out, “Pete”. He heard thumping from behind the door.
He pushed on the door, and it was slow to open. There was a dead weight against the bottom. Finally, it was three-quarters open and he squeezed in. He stared in fascination at the large black and white cat sitting on the bench opposite. It had a smug gleam its two different coloured eyes and a blood collection pack between its paws. Broken glass and blood were on the floor below it. He looked to his right. Peter and the apricot tom were slumped against the bottom of the door. Peter had his sleeve rolled up, and a needle inserted in his right-arm vein. A tube and collection bag, were attached. The tomcat, obviously dead, lay stiff and open mouthed across his knees.

Mayberry grabbed Peter’s wrist. He could feel the faintest pulse. He called the ambulance, and told the Police as close to the truth as he could bear to. In an hour his clinic was cleared out, and he called Ms. Stern, who had disappeared when the ambulance turned up, to come and collect her cat. The black and white female appeared to wink her left eye, a piercing blue one, at him as he passed her over. He shook his head. It’s been a very long day, he thought.

Mayberry had yet to hear the whole story from the still unconscious Peter, but he was pretty certain of one thing: no one would be collecting blood for research from Rotown’s cats

 

An explanation of a mistake.

I wonder if anyone noticed the technical error in the last two weeks’ story. Paragraph three of  Part One of Wrong Side of the River contained some technical errors. My edited version of the paragraph better suits the explanation of the effect of a shotgun pellet(rather than a bullet) fired from a 12 gauge– that should probably have read twelve gauge so I’ll fix that too! This was something I knew before I even submitted it for University assessment, and why writers often need another eye. If you would like to write to me about your errors or offer constructive comments on mine please message me on twitter or ask me to contact you in the comments. Thanks for reading!

The edited paragraph from Wrong Side of the River part One

Mirages hovered over the strips of asphalt as they approached Yarrawonga, and their holiday house. They had been nearby when Michael slammed on the brakes. Everyone in the car gaped at him as he had leapt from the driver’s seat and ran to the boot. He unlocked it and threw up the lid. He pulled out his loaded twelve gauge, and in the silence there was a definite click as he released the safety. At the front of the car, he fired at the Eastern Brown Snake crossing the road. The shiny,sinuous coils were rent by the shotgun pellets propelled scattering of bloody guts.
Poor bloody snake, R.I.P. January 4 1970, thought Bev.
Bev and Sally had screamed, while Mickie just stared. He reset the safety, returned the rifle to the boot, and then flopped into the driver’s seat.
‘I feel better, Wheeze’, he said to his wife. She shook her head.
‘That’s snake’s relatives need the name of that trial lawyer you’ve been up against.’
He had given a mocking laugh, glared at her, and opening the car door, stomped off. He realized he’d angered her, and rejected the thought that she was justified. A member of the bar firing a shotgun on a public road, without warning his wife or his kids. Irritation and stress were all over him like the leftovers of a honey sandwich. He tried to shake it, but he needed a walk. He headed towards the nearby river.

Wrong Side of the River:Part Two

Michael had been in and out of town three times in the last three hours, and he wasn’t sure how or when he would get back to a telephone, let alone have anything, besides a drink of water. Just then he looked up to see two guys in suits exciting a green Holden sedan. One held a camera. The one without the camera spoke,’ I’m James Cleary from the local rag. Can we head down?’
‘Yeah, I guess so. Knight’s down there.’
‘ And who am I speaking with?’ James raised his eyebrows.
‘Michael Connelly.’ He deliberately didn’t say anymore, and drew himself up, looking past the reporter and down the road.
The reporter looked at him again as if to speak, but Michael stepped away, and he heard the two men tromping through the bush behind him. An hour later a familiar black car, sped through the twilight towards him.

Mason Wise wound down the window, and looked up at Michael, as dispersed dust settled on their shoulders. ‘ Well, I hope this is worth it. I was down for a round of golf tomorrow, and I’m due to take leave in a week.’
Michael grinned,’ I know you Mas, if you couldn’t see the possibility in this little find’ (he checked a little, realising he sounded callous) ‘ scuse, the expression— you would’ve sent Dick. I know your trying to impress AG Murray.’
‘Ok, Ok’, Mas nodded. ‘Like you I’ve always been curious about Carrera, thought the name was a code. He is mentioned, I think, in the files on Mal Laromo. If we can put this together, we might be able to pin Mal for conspiracy to murder and racketeering, before he gets out of jail in six months.’
‘Yeah, hearing him only being sentenced for his first offence of ‘possessing stolen goods’, nearly made me puke. If the judge hadn’t looked as unhappy as I did, when I saw him afterwards, I might’ve lost my block there and then. Would you give me a lift back to the house? Bev will fix us a sandwich, I hope, and I’ve asked the Sergeant to call as soon as they confirm the identity of the deceased.’
Mason nodded, and Michael headed to the passenger side door.

At the house Bev greeted them, expressing her surprise at seeing Mason.
‘The kiddies are next door, playing with Doug and Wendy’s kids’, she told Michael. She heated up a couple of pies that she had bought earlier, and made coffee.
When she heard they were going to work, she said that she was going out to float on a lilo in the pool. At the door she glared from behind Mason’s head at Michael, and made a throat cutting gesture with her hand. He nodded at her and gave an uneasy smile. She turned away, and walked off.

About ten minutes later she was back, ‘I’ll lend you guys a hand.’
‘ I almost don’t want to start in case that phone rings and the Sergeant says that guy is Joey Carrera’s first cousin twice removed. Would you like a beer?’ Michael asked.
He pointed at Wheeze and the fridge, and she nodded yes.
‘I’d like a beer, Mick’, Mas said, ‘and we may as well start. I’ve already been through the first two from three years ago, and all the blokes from the stolen goods ring mention Carrera—That they had to contact this Carrera before making the deliveries. None of ours ever found evidence of anyone named Carrera, so at one stage someone suggested it was a code name for something, and we had that focus after that. Let’s have one beer, and let’s look at the files.’
Bev grabbed some files and a red biro, and flipping through began to read and underline. Her wet bikini bottoms were sticking to the vinyl chair, but she was reluctant to leave the task.
‘Ok’, said Michael two hours later, ‘ most of these twenty files mention Carrera. How do we link him to Laromo?’
Bev gave him her scary look. He said ‘I’ll explain later, Wheeze.’ She shook her head and beckoned to him. He slid out of his chair, and they walked into the hallway. ‘I’ll just be a minute, Mas.’ She shut the kitchen door.
‘Why are we working on the first day of our holiday? Is this cause you stuffed up with the Laromo case?’
He stared at the wall. ‘Is this stuff that should have been dealt with before. If you’d been thorough?’ Her words were coming out like bullets now.
‘The police stuffed up too. We’re a team on these cases.’
‘Michael’, she folded her arms, ‘did you miss any of this stuff because you were being an overzealous prick?’
‘Hey, don’t be harsh.’ He bit his bottom lip. She stared at him. ’I might’ve rushed a few things.’ Bev nodded.

The telephone rang. It was Sergeant Paulson. ‘ Both parties have confirmed the deceased was one Joey Carrera of Prince St Collingwood. He was meant to visit his mother’s house at 7pm on Thursday evening, and didn’t turn up. His brother put in a missing person’s report about 10 pm on Friday night. He insisted that they phone up here because his brother likes fishing here. Apparently, his sister is seriously ill, and they felt something was really wrong for Joey to leave Melbourne.’
Michael spoke, ‘ Did you ask him if he knows what his brother does for a quid?’
‘Yeah, I waited until the mother had gone to the ladies and I asked. He said his brother had gotten out of the family business about five years ago, that he had a profitable business distributing packages— said it was state wide, and even interstate. He spent a lot of time away from home.’
‘Ok. Has Detective Black arrived from Melbourne yet?’
‘Not yet, but the boys found a small handgun, wrapped in plastic behind the rocks, up river from the body. Its being dusted for prints, and the slug size matches the victim.’

When the Detective Black arrived the next morning, he was interested in the handgun and tracing it. He said, ‘These things have been restricted since the end of World War Two, except in New South Wales, they changed their laws in the fifties. This is quite a find.’ The detectives from Wangaratta, had found two independent witnesses who claimed that they had seen a female with Carrera; he had spent two nights at the motel, not one. He had arrived about midnight on Thursday.

Everyone dispersed to the hard procedural work of policing and Michael set about playing golf. When he got stuck in the sand bunker on the eighth, late Wednesday morning, he lost his temper on his fourth attempt at freeing his ball. After being giggled at by two small boys who were scouting for lost balls on the edge of the course; and failing to retrieve his wedge flung into the creek that bordered the golf course, he returned to the clubhouse, via the car to get some dry shoes, and enjoyed a stiff whiskey. I can’t tell Wheeze I threw away the sand wedge she gave me for my birthday, he thought.

It was on Thursday, while picnicking on the foreshore of Lake Mulwala, enjoying the laughter and voices of the children, splashing at the water’s edge, that he finally let it all go. Right now he was happy just to admire the glow of the sunlight on Wheeze’s blonde hair, and remark how much Mickie had grown since last year.

When they arrived back at the house, they were sitting on the back verandah, admiring the evening star as it appeared on the horizon. Michael went inside to get some drinks. He passed the kids lying on the couch watching the black and white television. Sally was dozing off, her head lolling against the base of the armrest. He grabbed a pillow from a nearby chair and positioned it under her neck. The phone rang and Mason was on the line. He had returned to Melbourne on Tuesday, to follow developments in the case.
‘I’ll give you three guesses who they traced that handgun to.’
‘Well, my first two guesses would be Joey Carrera, and Mal Laromo. Why would I need a third?’
‘Because’, the phone went silent, Michael was about to jiggle the connection buttons, when Mason continued, ‘the gun belonged to Lina Laromo, Mal Laromo’s sister. Her prints have been found in that Motel room at Yarrawonga, too. She was Carrera’s go between, and no-one knew she was the brains behind the stolen goods ring, because she worked at this bar in Clifton Hill, and just pretended she was the house whore. She was adopted, had been disowned by Mrs Laromo years before, so only a couple of insiders knew who she was——’
‘ Hang on, who shot Carrera?’
‘ She did. She was his lover. She had a really tight business going, but she mixed business with passion, and that was her undoing.’
‘Why did she do such a stupid thing, like leave the gun near the body?’
‘One of her minions she sent back to fix things up, got confused about which side of the river border to plant the gun. They’re not illegal in New South Wales, and if it wasn’t near the body, most likely no one would have traced it.’
‘So, its really her we want to put away.’
‘ Yeah, well she’ll probably get more than twenty years, if we can convince the jury she pulled the trigger. It shouldn’t be too hard. Then while she’s away, we could try and dismantle the organisation she’s got going. Looks like we can build a strong case. Gotta go. Enjoy the rest of your holiday, Mick.’
When he told Wheeze, she frowned at him. ‘ So it was a woman that mucked up the start of our holiday.’
‘ But it was her male lackey that stuffed up, and allowed us to crack the case.’ He nodded to her.
‘You’re learning Michael, you’re learning’
He pulled her into a hug, but before he could kiss her she began to laugh.

—The End—

The Wrong Side of the River:Part One

For days during his last case before the holidays, Beverley Louise Connelly’s husband Michael had said a bullet would have been the best thing for the accused. The case had dragged on and on, ending with a conviction on only one charge. A strong case from the defence saw two of three charges dropped against the Melbourne criminal, Mal Laromo.

Following the angst producing verdict, even after they had packed the car and were ready to leave on the Sunday morning, Michael had still been testy. He tried to appear jovial at breakfast, and greeted his family with, ‘I’ve had a shower, and a shit and a shave, ‘n’ I feel great. Ready for fun, everyone.’ His kids, Sally and Michael Junior (“Mickie”) smiled at him but “Wheeze” as he called her (his pet name for Bev) raised her eyebrows at him. She knew his shoulders were still as tense as a sprung cart.

Mirages hovered over the strips of asphalt as they approached Yarrawonga, and their holiday house. They had been nearby when Michael slammed on the brakes. Everyone in the car gaped at him as he had leapt from the driver’s seat and ran to the boot. He unlocked it and threw up the lid. He pulled out his loaded 12 gauge, and in the silence there was a definite click as he released the safety. At the front of the car, he fired at the Eastern Brown Snake crossing the road. The shiny, sinuous coils were rent by the bullet’s ejection of bloody guts.

Poor bloody snake, R.I.P. January 4 1970, thought Bev.

Bev and Sally had screamed, while Mickie just stared. He reset the safety, returned the rifle to the boot, and then flopped into the driver’s seat.

‘I feel better, Wheeze’, he said to his wife. She shook her head.

‘That’s snake’s relatives need the name of that trial lawyer you’ve been up against.’

He had given a mocking laugh, glared at her, and opening the car door, stomped off. He realized he’d angered her, and rejected the thought that she was justified. A member of the bar firing a shotgun on a public road, without warning his wife or his kids. Irritation and stress were all over him like the leftovers of a honey sandwich. He tried to shake it, but he needed a walk. He headed towards the nearby river.

The air seemed a couple of degrees cooler as he turned upstream, and then took a deep breath. He stomped over the rough grass, and fallen bark. After a while he came to a drop in the riverbank, and saw below a sandy river beach. He picked his way to the sand, and gathered a few river stones and began to toss them out into the water. The second time as he bent to gather stones, and glanced to his right, downstream, he noticed something. It looked like a person lying on their side, facing in the opposite direction. The prone person was dressed in Khaki pants and what looked like a long fishing jacket. Awfully hot to be dressed like that, had been his first thought. Then the lack of a tackle box peaked his curiosity.

He went to the water’s edge, and looked up and down to see if a boat, or another person was anywhere nearby. Nothing, he thought. Nothing is normal about that person lying there. He called out, ‘Gidday’, his voice echoed back to him from the rock and clay walls. He walked to the prone back. ‘ Excuse me, mate’, he bellowed again, and the echo reminded him that he wasn’t an optimist.

Come on, he thought, feel for a pulse. If it’s your day he’ll reach up and slap you. He shook the man’s shoulder and he flopped onto his back. Blood oozed from a slug entry hole in his forehead, and his glassy eyes stared at the sky.

He jogged, his breath coming in gasps, stumbling over broken sticks and dry bark, between red gums and bent wattles, to the car. There he found Bev and the kids drinking lemonade from a thermos in the shade of an old gum. He waved Bev over, ‘We’ve got to get to a phone.’

She looked at his sweaty face, and in his eyes saw fear. ‘What is it?’ she whispered.

‘A body.’

‘A human body, dead?’

He nodded.

She looked down, and dragged the toe of her right shoe in the dust. She could hear Mickie and Sally fighting over the last of the lemonade. His damp fingers trembled in her hand, and she spoke.

‘ My, my, quite the body count today.’

His grip firmed and she sensed his head come up. He snorted; they looked at each other and laughed.

In the end they drove to he police station in Yarrawonga: a small brick building in a side street. ‘Why are we here?’ said young Sally, her voice rising to a squeak, as she kicked her feet against the frame of the driver’s seat. ‘Mickie, spilt some of that lemonade on mee.’

Michael junior (Mickie) shook his head, and elbowed her. He had picked up that his parents were distracted.

‘I thought we were going to the house Dad, and I’m hungry. Let’s stop at the bakery,’ Mickie whined. Bev shook her head raising her eyebrows at him. ‘ You’re always a—hungry, my son.’

Michael spoke to Bev. ‘I’ll go in. This could take a while.’ He reached for his wallet, and pressed some notes into Bev’s hand. Bev reached her hand behind his head and kissed him. Her lips were warm, and tasted tangy from the lemonade. He kissed her with passion. ‘ Just as well, you kissed me like that. With this much cash I was gonna disappear to Lorraine’s boutique for a serious shopping session.’

He turned and smirked at her, ‘If she has any tiny polka dot bikinis, I could cope with that.’

She gave him a grin.

He got out and walked toward the police station. He heard Bev start up the car, and the kids both talking at once. Michael saw a note attached to the police station door: the officer was at lunch, but in an emergency he could be contacted at 12 Piper Street. He knew that was the street that ran behind the station, and he walked south, making two left turns. In a few minutes he was at the door of Number 12.

The policeman looked up from his lunch in surprise when Michael tapped on the rear wire screen. The policeman waved him to the seat opposite and kept chewing. Michael introduced himself, stated he was a holidaymaker, and then as the Senior Constable sliced into a perfectly pink lamb chop, said, ‘I found the body of a man, bullet wound in the head, on the river bank about 10 miles from town.’

The Constable stopped, his mouth half open, mid chew, and then swallowed noisily. ‘Oh— can you describe the victim; I had a report about a missing person a couple of days ago. Look’, he grabbed paper and a pen from the sideboard, and thrust it at Michael, ‘write down what you saw, give me an outline for the report’, and added as he went to the sink to wash his hands, ‘I’ll telephone the Sarge.’ He walked through the door of the kitchen and Michael heard the whirr and click of rapid dialling.

He shook his head— country policing seems pretty casual, he thought and began writing: Caucasian male, European appearance, hair: grey, approx. 5’ 10 ‘ tall…

Ninety minutes later, having heard that a detective, and a police surgeon, would arrive from Wangaratta, Michael stood on the sand, near the body of the victim, with Sergeant Paulson, and Senior Constable Knight. It was still hot and still, but a northerly was gathering momentum across the river, and was providing some discouragement to the flies. The body was encased with a miasma that surrounded those close to the body. ‘I would say the victim hasn’t been here more than 24 hours’, said the Sarge. ‘ I don’t think that it could be any longer in this heat, or it would be hard to stand this close, also this is a spot pretty popular with fishermen. Someone would have discovered our victim sooner.’

He looked at Michael. ‘How come your were walking down here?’

‘It was a long trip from the city. I was stretching my legs before we drove the last bit to the holiday house, and when I came down to skip some stones—’, he gestured toward the body, and reached into his coat pocket for a cigarette. This was the first time he had been closer to a victim’s body than a photo: inspected weeks after a murder, and in an air-conditioned office.

‘ He matches the description from the missing person’s report’, Senior Constable Knight said. The wife and son are travelling up, tonight, from Melbourne to confirm his identity.’

‘Yes’, said the Sergeant, ‘Knight, what was his name, again?

‘Carrera, Joey Carrera.’

Michael looked startled. ‘ Did you say Joey Carrera? I’m a prosecuting attorney for the Attorney General’s department, and that name came up in a case I’ve been working on.’

Knight nodded. ‘ Could I ask you a favour?’ said Michael.

Two hours later, Michael’s offsider Mason, and a detective from Melbourne were on their way to Yarrawonga. In the meantime, the detective from Wangaratta, had finished the inspection of the body in locale, and had it moved to the Morgue at the local hospital. The light was changing and the sandy beach was in shadow. Despite this, the Wangaratta detective had ordered the two police officers with him to comb the beach, and the area between it and the road, for any sign of a murder weapon, or other evidence: drag marks, cigarette butts or materials that might have recently been torn from clothing. Their orders were to work until dark, and begin again at first light. Senior Constable Knight was assisting them. Joey Carrera had apparently spent one night in a motel on the north edge of town. The detective had gone to speak to the staff at the motel, and follow up any leads.

Michael paced on the edge of the road.