I just wanted to explain a little of what I am hoping to do here with this book. I have loved detective fiction ever since I read a selection of Sherlock Holmes stories as a child of twelve (back when being twelve meant that you were still a child). Over the years I discovered Christie, Chesterton, Sayers, Collins (although I do have to admit I have gone two rounds with The Moonstone and lost both times) and found myself even more enamored with this genre. Add to this mix such TV shows as the old ITV Sherlock series (starring Jeremy Brett), NCIS, Death in Paradise and the BBC series Sherlock and you get close to the heart of how I like to see detective fiction. The classic whodunnit, in which we see chaos brought back to order through the detective's diligent pursuit of truth, mixed with the peril of the thriller and the humour that is inherent to everyday life.
Thomas Brown is a character that I have dreamt of for a long time and have, at various times, sat down to commence an account of the adventures that a crime-solving teacher would find themselves immersed in. This is also a love-letter to the city of Sydney and the region of Greater Western Sydney, a place I have been thankful to call home. Yes, you will probably be able to find many of the locations mentioned on Google maps, even the addresses with Shakespearean names (how did we do research for novels before the internet?), but unfortunately none of these characters exist in real life.
Because this book is so firmly based in a geographical and cultural setting you are going to find there are words and phrases that will be outside of your experience. I encourage you to seek and find, or even leave a comment on my tablo page so that you can make your reading experience better. I do not apologize for this. How else will you grow unless you run into something that you don't know?
Ladies and gentlemen. It gives me great pleasure to present the incredible Mr Thomas Brown!
Soli Deo gloria!
(c) Jon Bailey, 2014
The croaking raven doth bellow for revenge. - Hamlet
You only need half a litre of blood to completely cover a room.
That was the first thing they noticed on entering the house. There was easily more than that here in this crime scene. The team's training kicked into gear as they set to work. Sketch the scene, collect tissue samples, photograph blood stains, find samples of gun residue. If it wasn't for the large, festering carcass of a pig lying in the middle of the scene, any passerby would have assumed that this was the scene of a violent crime and that the figures populating it were trained technicians.
The students were looking at each other, confusion in their eyes. Something wasn't right. As far as they could see everything they needed to solve the 'crime' was there in the room. But something set them all on edge. What was it?
Thomas Brown chewed his lip. He could sense it, something WAS missing. He looked over the room again, carefully weighing in his mind the evidence available. There was the pig's carcass, his head had been removed in a 'ritual' killing and placed at the other end of the room. There were the corresponding blood stains for the injury across the carpet and the wall. You had to hand it to the lab technicians, he thought, they knew how to put on a spectacle.
Then he saw it. At first it looked like a blood stain that related to the 'victim' on the floor. But what if...? He walked over for closer inspection.
"Guys, there's another body."
"Come again?" said Paul Reid, Thomas' best friend, who had just stuck his head inside the door from where he had been taking photos outside.
"This stain can't have come from this injury," said Thomas, pointing out the carcass and the stain that had perplexed him. "In fact if you get down here you can see that a second body has been dragged from here across the room in this direction."
Thomas followed the trail to a cupboard that everyone had been ignoring on the other side of the room. Growing out from underneath its doors was a pool of blood. With a raised hand he called for Paul who unstrapped the dummy pistol that he had been given and trained it on the door.
Taking a breath, Thomas opened the doors and stood back.
"Who had the bright idea of looking in the cupboard?"
The class had cleared the crime scene and where now seated, still wearing their stained clean suits, in a class room debriefing from the scene. Thomas and Paul sheepishly put up their hands. Their lecturer smiled.
"You ought to be congratulated. The lab technicians have set that scene several times for all of the forensic classes for their last assignment and no one has ever noticed the blood trail leading to the live victim in the cupboard."
The other students clapped, some enthusiastically, some wishing that they had been able to deduce the same conclusion from that scene. The lecturer continued.
"This class has passed with flying colours, firstly because you thoroughly documented every shred of evidence that had been left for you in the scene and secondly because you discovered the second victim and successfully got them to hospital, she's going to live."
The class had broken up and were going there separate ways. Thomas and Paul were walking to catch their train. Paul broke the silence.
"Great call, by the way. I would never have picked the second body."
"Well, you know how it is," Thomas batted him off modestly. "The gaps in your evidence chain can be more eloquent than all of the collected evidence together." Paul laughed and gave his friend a punch in the shoulder.
"Yeah, but you're the only guy I know who would go in the face of all the other evidence in the room."
The train arrived at the station shortly after they had, and they had parted company once they got off at Paramatta Station, Paul to his apartment and Thomas to his parent's house.
Thomas walked up the drive and noted that his mother was out. He let himself in to the dark house and walked through it to the master bedroom to check on his father who was sleeping quietly. That was good, the pain mustn't have been to bad today. He closed the door and slipped quietly down the hallway to the kitchen.
Thomas found the note from his mum on the kitchen bench. That was so typical for mum, even though she knew he had a mobile phone she would rather leave him a note on a scrap of paper than call or send a text message. Very well then, she would be back later. Thomas found the meal she had left and reheated it in the microwave.
The sound of the phone ringing in the hall broke the silence of the house. Thomas hurried from the kitchen to answer it, picking up the receiver.
"Hello, This is the Brown residence."
"Am I speaking to Mr Brown?"
"This is his son, may I ask who's calling?"
"I am speaking from the emergency room at Westmead, it's about your mother. . ."
…truth will come to light; murder cannot be hid long; a man’s son may, but at the length truth will out. - The Merchant of Venice
Thomas Brown looked up at the clock and sighed. Eleven forty-five and still half of his year twelve papers to mark. Why did he always do this? He loved giving his students creative space, allowing them to be inventive in their responses. But this always left him with a pile of marking of dubious proportions. His parents were in bed and now the night was his, even if it now had to run later than he liked. He reached over to the bottle of Cola and poured another glass. Thus fortified, he continued his reading, interrupting it only to put red marks across the student's work.
Another hour had passed, the pile had diminished and he only had a few essays left when he was interrupted by the persistent ringing of his phone. Thomas hated interruptions to his work, especially ones that came this late in the evening.
"Well you didn't expect to get the Pope on this line! Do you realise what time it is Paul?"
"I know, sorry it's so late. I didn't disturb. . ."
"No, mum and dad would sleep through a marching band. What couldn't wait till the morning?"
"I need you Tom, can you meet me at the Macca's on New Line road?"
"If this is anything less than a national emergency I'm hanging up. I've got marking to finish, but a cop wouldn't get that."
"Well, this cop needs to talk to an old friend, now."
Thomas paused. He looked at the pile of marking. It was only Friday after all. He could get it done on the weekend.
"I'll see you there in five minutes."
Pulling into the car park Thomas was greeted by Paul who was dressed in civvies, even though he was driving a police car. They stepped inside and ordered their coffees. Not a word passed between them until they were seated. Paul was the first to break the silence.
"So how are David and Margaret?"
"What's there to tell? Dad is still in and out of hospital with his mesothelioma and mum hasn't taken a single step on her own or spoken a word since the day of her accident."
"I'm sorry man. Do you have help?"
"Home care nurses every day for mum, Dad can look after himself to a degree."
"And how's your teaching going"
"What can I say? Good, solid, regular nine-to-five employment can not be beaten. Some classes are tough but you get used to that, you know what I mean? I can also arrange my timetable to maximise time at home with my parents."
"Nice. What subjects? No, wait," Paul interrupted Thomas' answer. "Let me see if I remember. You teach English and History?"
"How does someone studying forensic science wind up teaching kids about poetry and famous dead people?"
"I was an all rounder at school, you know. There was no subject that I really found too difficult and they were the ones that are guaranteed employment."
"Smart. Very smart." Paul picked up his coffee and took a long pull. Thomas decided now was a good time to cut to the chase.
"So who died?" Paul, taken aback, slowly put his cup on the table as he responded.
"Four people, actually."
"And I'm here because. . ."
"Because none of it makes sense and I need your help"
"Be reasonable Paul. You know I have done nothing in the way of forensic work since Uni. It's been too long."
"Ah, but you were singular, even then. And I've watched you. You were the best at reading a scene. Try your hand one more time, for my sake." Paul paused with a pleading look in his eyes. Thomas sat thinking. Paul looked up from the table, watching to see if anyone else was listening.
"Paul, no one else is here. And what could you possibly have that would. . ." but Paul's expression left the words dying in his throat.
"I have a serial killer on the loose." Thomas sucked in a sharp breath, as if the words had hit him like a bullet.
"In the last month, four murders."
"How are they connected".
Paul reached into his pocket and pulled out his mobile phone, handing it to Thomas. "He always leaves a coded message and each message was signed in the same way." Thomas raised his eyebrows at the photo on the screen.
"Is that what I think it is?", he said pointing to the signature.
"Yes. A perfect copy of the signature of William Shakespeare, in the victim's blood no less." Thomas sat and stared at it and passed the phone back to Paul.
"So," Thomas started again, "Is there a pattern to the killings?"
"No. The cause of death in the first case is as yet undetermined but we strongly suspect poison. The second was a stabbing and the third was a strangling. Number four was a drug overdose, but the evidence suggests that it was forced on the victim by the murderer." Thomas sat quietly, thinking through the information.
"Can I see the messages again?" Paul handed the phone to Thomas. Thomas hated codes, they had always left his head spinning when he had attempted to work on them. He found this code had just the same effect as all the others. He pushed the phone back to Paul with barely disguised disgust and focussed his attention on his coffee.
A dilemma now presented itself to him. Thomas had always enjoyed mysteries and had shown no small amount of promise when studying to be a forensic detective. But it had all been brought to a screaming halt with his mother's accident. He had changed degrees, changed jobs and changed houses in order to help look after his parents. He set down the cup, keeping his focus on the table without looking at his friend.
"You do understand I can't just take this up? I have another job, teaching. It kind of occupies all my spare time."
"I know, but I don't think it will take that long for you to work out. The code isn't the thing you need to worry about, we have another guy who can help you with that. We just need some lateral thinking from a guy who doesn't miss a clue." Thomas looked up at Paul, the pleading tone in his voice all too evident in his eyes.
There was no way that Thomas Brown could get involved in something like this, not now. Besides, was this even legal. Paul, without breaking eye contact continued his pitch.
"You would be hired as a consultant, nothing more. I just want you to come to the station, sift through some photos and data from the crime scene. See what sets you off."
"Paul, I. . .it's not that. . ."
"If you come in tomorrow, that should be all I need. I'm just asking for one Saturday afternoon."
Thomas looked down at the table top. He couldn't help but feel that a door he once felt was closed had now been opened for him and he couldn't imagine an opportunity like this ever coming his way again. Besides, it was only one day, and the home care nurse would be able to cover for him with his parents. He looked up from the table.
"Right. I'm in."