I liked what I saw.
Maybe five-foot-six, long, playful brown hair and muddy irises set amongst freckles. I liked freckles. It didn’t matter that she carried a little bit of extra weight; she seemed sensuous to me. Friendly. She smiled as she flirted with another suit at the bar, an easy, warm smile revealing dimples and a fun-loving nature. The man in the suit was much older than both of us; she was cruising for a moneyed lover.
I ordered a beer and threw my jacket over the back of the bar stool next to them and decided to cut his cake.
‘I am not pretty,’ Lil slurred, taking another sip of chardonnay and spilling a drop onto her flowery dress.
‘You are,’ I insisted, topping up her glass as she wiped at the drop of wine with her tissue. ‘I think you’re beautiful.’
‘That’s just bullshit. You’re cuddly.’
She laughed, those dimples arresting me again. ‘So, what … what’s your name again?’
‘What do you do for a living, Andrew? You’re all dressed up in a big, flash suit like a little kid at his mother’s wedding.’
‘I’m a lawyer.’ I didn’t usually like to break this to potential lady-friends too early in the evening, since some didn’t find it as attractive as others. But Lil didn’t look too fazed.
‘No, really? My brother-in-law’s a lawyer, and he’s a total arsehole.’
I nodded. ‘Yeah, there are a few of them around.’ A change of subject was probably called for. ‘How about you? What do you do?’
‘I’m a florist.’
‘Really?’ It wouldn’t have mattered if she said she was slaughter-house throat-cutter, I still would’ve been enthusiastic. We were playing the niceties game in anticipation of sex. ‘Hey, that’s great.’
‘Well, training to be one. I’m not … you know, it takes a lot of practice.’
‘You’ll get there.’
‘Sure, I will.’
‘Do you enjoy it?’
She laughed. ‘I love it. It’s a real challenge, you know? There’s so much creativity that goes into it.’
The light behind her eyes as she spoke almost had me convinced that floristry wouldn’t be a bad career choice if ever I had to give up the law. It wasn’t typical for me to get too enthralled by anything a potential sexual partner had to say. It wasn’t about the conversation, after all. But everything about Lil was cute. You wanted to just pat her.
She pulled out her mobile phone and started scrolling through pictures. ‘See,’ she said, pushing the phone in my direction. ‘That’s one of my arrangements.’
I glanced at the picture. A bunch of flowers.
‘That’s great, Lil,’ I enthused. ‘Beautiful.’
She beamed, then scrolled through some more. ‘This is my favourite.’
‘Yeah.’ Sensing my lack of appreciation for the finer details of her craft, she took the phone back. She was about to cancel out of the photos when it rang.
I glanced away politely as she took the call but found myself looking back in her direction when she repeated “hello” a few too many times.
She glanced up at me and nodded. ‘I know it’s you Sam,’ she hissed into the phone. ‘Leave me alone.’ She hung up, her expression suddenly clouded. ‘Fuckhead.’
‘Someone stalking you?’ I felt it was polite to ask. I crossed my fingers under the bar in the hope that the conversation wouldn’t need to go anywhere too intense.
‘Na. Just …’ She shrugged. ‘Yeah, just a man who can’t take no for an answer.’ She sighed deeply, then seemed to pull herself together. ‘Do you want to get out of here?’
I grinned. ‘Sure. Let’s go.’
In the morning I woke early, as was my habit when I’d slept in a strange place. Lil was still asleep, her long dark hair laying across the fluffy pink pillows of her sweat-stained bed.
The sex had been hot and fast. Just how I liked it.
I left her a nice little note with my phone number, which would hopefully ensure she wouldn’t be too pissed off to wake and find me gone, then collected my stuff and vamoosed.
I hoped she would call. It’d be nice to see her again.
‘Andrew, you’re wanted.’
A wave of irritation washed over me. ‘I am so close to getting this statement finished,’ I informed my secretary.
Sally didn’t much care. She was fifty-five; she’d been a legal secretary for nearly forty years. The only thing that annoyed her more than poor time management skills was twenty-nine-year-old junior prosecutors who thought they were important because they had a law degree. ‘It’s Rufus,’ she clarified.
I sighed and saved my document. Fridays were hard at the best of times, due to general work-inspired exhaustion, but this had been a particularly long day for me. I’d had a few drinks whilst warming up Lil to the idea of taking me back to her place last night, then of course I hadn’t done much sleeping over the course of the night and was up before the crack of dawn. My mother had been on the phone early about my brother Rodney’s upcoming wedding – something about an ungrateful bitch who should count herself lucky she’s going to be part of our family – and Rufus had been at me all day to do something about the Schneider matter; the District Court was getting stroppy and Schneider’s counsel, a ferocious barrister named Audrey Simons, was threatening to apply to strike out the charges for want of prosecution. The problem was that the cops had screwed up the investigation from beginning to end, starting with seizing a whole heap of evidence from Schneider’s house without a warrant (or, at least, not one that they could now produce – they reckoned they’d “lost” it), and I was having trouble trying to make a case that would stick out of the mess. Rufus was threatening to nail my balls to the wall if we had to nolle the charge at hideous expense to the state and justify the decision to the victims and the media. As I frequently found myself saying since I’d joined the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, it wasn’t my fault, but it was my bloody problem.
I was trying to sort Schneider, and it wasn’t helping that Rufus was summonsing me to his office to demand to know why I wasn’t doing it.
Two plain-clothed police officers loitered in Rufus’ office. I knew them both. Detective Richard Simms had been a police officer for longer than Sally had been a legal secretary. He was old school. He had no patience for lawyers and never held back when it came to making the fact known. He regularly announced that in forty-three years of policing, he’d never come across a good lawyer. He was always happy to declare that in front of me or any of my colleagues. We consoled ourselves with the thought that perhaps he was talking about defence lawyers. Broadly speaking, we were supposed to be on the same side as the cops, although as a general rule they treated us like the enemy because we were always asking them unreasonable questions like “where’s the warrant?” and “did you read him his rights?”
Detective Jessy Parkin was young, a little younger than me, and undeniably cute with shoulder-length, blond hair and dirty green eyes. We’d worked together last year on State v Aaron Thomas Urquhart, a long and boring drug-trafficking case, the appeal process in respect of which had only just wrapped on Tuesday of this week. I’d been intending to give her a call and deliver my congratulations on the eventual verdict and ask her out to dinner. I probably would’ve done it last night if I hadn’t got lucky with Lil. And I wouldn’t call her now if things went well with Lil. I was hoping they would; she hadn’t called me today, but I was putting that down to her being not-overly-desperate rather than totally uninterested.
Neither Richard nor Jessy were particularly involved in the Schneider matter, so I wasn’t sure what they wanted. Rufus didn’t seem to be about to enlighten me on the situation.
‘Can I help you officers?’
Richard sighed. ‘We’d like you to come down to the station and help us with some enquiries,’ he intoned, deadpan.
I laughed. ‘Why didn’t you bring the files? I can help you here.’
‘No, it’s not business, Andrew,’ Jessy interjected. ‘There’s been a crime ... and you’re implicated.’
My heart skipped a beat. Holy fuck. I had no idea what they were talking about, but my gut told me clearly – no good can come of this.
‘What crime? What’s happened?’ I tried not to sound too panicky. It was important to stay cool when dealing with the cops. They were already convinced we were just a bunch of namby-pamby pen-pushers, and frightened squeaks emanating from our lips usually only reinforced this impression.
‘A murder,’ Richard said, and watched for my reaction.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Rufus wince.
‘I’m implicated in a murder?’ I yelped, feeling the blood draining out of my head. ‘How? How can that be?’
‘Come with us now, and we’ll have a chat about it on the video tape.’
Rufus laid one hand on my shoulder. ‘Now, you know you don’t have to talk to them.’
My hands were starting to shake. ‘If I was guilty of murder, I certainly wouldn’t talk to them.’
‘Do you want someone with you? I can get you a good defence lawyer – I can ring Shirl and see if she –’
I shook my head. ‘No. I’m fine. Really, I’m fine. Thanks. Thanks Rufus.’
I felt like I was in greater need of a doctor than a lawyer at that moment, though I had to admit it was a close call.
‘Stay calm now Andrew,’ Rufus went on. ‘It’s probably just some big misunderstanding.’
Probably? What did he mean probably?
‘Let’s go,’ I snapped. ‘The sooner we get this over and done with the better.’
The photograph smacked down on the desk in front of me. I’d seen a hundred of them before. A classic crime scene pic – a gruesomely twisted figure, a gut-churning wound, a face that belonged to no-one, bereft of life.
No one had bothered to tell me who the dead guy was. During the long and uncomfortably quiet car trip down to the cop shop, I’d pondered the possibilities. There was Martin Pfizer, a rapist I’d fought hard to bin six months ago who’d just had his conviction overturned on appeal. I could see how they might have considered me a suspect if he’d been offed. Or Harry Anderson, a drug lord who’d threatened to have my existence terminated if I went ahead with his trial, which I was presently doing. Maybe they suspected I’d got in first. None of these guys seemed like a brilliant fit, to my mind. Maybe someone I’d got convicted had actually framed me, as payback. Maybe some dickhead had written a little note saying “I, Andrew Deacon, hereby confess that it was me who killed this guy” and stuck it on the dead guy’s chest. Even if they didn’t suspect me of the killing, it certainly would be grounds to haul me down to the police station and question me as to who might have had the motive to write such a thing.
I’d convinced myself in the car that that was exactly what I was going to see when I looked at the photo. A dead guy, completely unknown to me, with my name written on his chest, Da Vinci Code-style.
The dead guy was a woman.
I stared hard at the photo.
When I recognised her, I found myself dropping the picture like it was infected, and some kind of repulsed grunt came out of my mouth.
‘That’s Lil,’ I whispered. Lil. Gruesome wounds, lifeless face.
Richard’s voice was cold. ‘That’s Olivia Constantine, aged twenty-three years. Stabbed fifteen times. Two brothers, two sisters, two devastated parents.’
I had experienced what you’d have to describe as a blessed life, to date. I grew up on sheep farm twenty-five kays north-east of Albany. I had two loving parents who bestowed upon me genes which the ladies seemed to find a suitably attractive package, and my parents helped me with my homework and took me to sport and funded my city-based secondary studies and university education. From that springboard I was able to catapult myself into a coveted career working days and nights for the Director of Public Prosecutions. I’d been at that for four years, and I was doing well. I was having success. People were talking about me, as some kind of up-and-coming next big thing. I had a bright future ahead of me.
Well, it was bright, right up until the moment I recognised last night’s one-night stand in a crime scene photograph.
‘She’s a florist,’ I rasped. I looked up at the two police officers. Both were staring at me. ‘That’s all I can tell you about her.’
‘We don’t need to know about her, Andrew,’ Jessy murmured, her green eyes focussed and still. ‘We know who she is. What we need to know is why you killed her.’
Oh, God. ‘I did not kill her.’
I looked back at the picture. I couldn’t believe now that I hadn’t recognised her straight away. The position in which she lay was not so different from the position in which I’d left her first thing that morning, laying curled up on her side with her hair across the pillow. Only now her hair was not glossy and smooth. Now, her hair was knotted and sticky with her own blood, and she cradled multiple wounds to her chest and stomach.
‘How do you know this woman?’ Jessy continued. ‘What is she to you?’
‘She’s …’ I paused, swallowing painfully over razorblades. ‘She’s nothing to me. I had a one-night stand with her. Once. Last night.’
Jessy’s eyes narrowed; I suspected she was grossed out by my admission. Geez, a one-night stand was not the most heinous crime in the world. Everyone did it. I was young and single. I hadn’t done anything wrong. And I’d left a nice note. Oh yes, the note.
‘You found my note.’
‘Your phone number made it pretty clear who was there.’
I nodded. ‘Yes, and when you do all the forensics, which I have no doubt you have your boys diligently and competently sorting right now, you’ll find my sperm inside her.’
Jessy grimaced almost imperceptibly. ‘You’re agreeing to provide a DNA sample?’
Richard disappeared and returned within a few seconds with a kit. He used a swab to take skin cells from the inside of my cheek. It was an intimate experience.
‘Why didn’t you use a condom?’ Jessy asked.
‘We did, but it broke.’
She rolled her eyes, as if she thought I was trying to talk myself up.
‘It was very intense sex,’ I informed her. ‘Very physical.’ I would have felt vaguely embarrassed about telling Jessy this much about my sex life if I had anything to lose. It wasn’t like there was much point in trying to impress her now, given that she was about to charge me with murder. Our fledgling love affair was over before it’d begun.
‘We get it, thanks Andrew,’ Richard said, clicking his police-issue pen impatiently. ‘What time did you leave Olivia’s apartment?’
‘A bit before dawn. There were only those filmy white curtains on the windows. I woke when it started to get light. Whatever time that was.’
‘What did you do when you woke?’
‘I got dressed. I threw water on my face, and wrote the note, and grabbed my stuff, and left.’
‘Did you speak to Olivia before you left?’
‘Did you touch her?’
‘No, I didn’t. Not after I woke up.’
‘How did she look to you when you last saw her?’
‘Asleep.’ I shuddered. ‘Alive, and asleep. She looked pretty, you know, laying there. I wrote the note because I hoped to see her again.’
‘Did you lock the door on your way out?’
‘Yes, I pulled it shut. The door locked itself.’
‘Did you see anyone else at the apartment while you were there?’
‘No. I had the feeling she had a flatmate ... but I never saw anyone while I was there.’
‘Did you return to the apartment at any time during that day?’
‘Where did you go when you left Olivia’s apartment?’
‘I got a takeaway coffee at Harry’s then I went straight to work. I showered downstairs at the gym, and then I started working and I stayed at work all day. I think it was around six-thirty in the morning when I got to work. You can get Rufus to check my swiper on that one.’
Richard nodded. ‘Don’t worry, we will.’
‘Just make sure you get a warrant.’
Richard frowned, as if he suspected – correctly – that I was having a go. ‘Don’t worry,’ he snapped. ‘We will.’
I’d thought I’d had a hard day at five in the afternoon. By ten o’clock that night I was starting to re-consider my definition of a hard day. Jessy and Richard were obviously used to this kind of workload as they didn’t seem to be tiring in the slightest. I was willing to think about conceding that cops possibly did work at least equally as hard as prosecutors.
Jessy was like a dog with a bone, hammering me incessantly on the same points, over and over again. What time did you get up, what time did the sun come up, what time did you go to Harry’s for coffee, what time did Sally tell you that you were a lazy brat, what time did Rufus buzz you, what time did your mother ring, how was Olivia laying when you left the apartment, how much did you have to drink, how much did she have to drink, did you kill her, did you stab her, did you thrust a kitchen knife into her chest and her breasts and her guts and drain the blood from her body.
Did you drain the blood from her body?
‘I didn’t do this,’ I told Jessy through gritted teeth. ‘I’m sorry ... I know you’re just doing your job and I, honestly, I’m not going to blame you once this thing is over. But I think you really ought to know that I’m not a psycho killer. I love women. I don’t hurt them, I don’t hit them, I don’t abuse them. I have a great relationship with my mother and my sisters and I have a great relationship with my lovers. I really hope you two aren’t the only ones on this job, and there are other cops out there now following up other leads.’
Jessy leaned across the desk and our eyes locked. I searched hers for any sign that she believed me. There was nothing there.
‘What other leads, Andrew?’ she said quietly. ‘You got any ideas for us? Because all the signs are pointing to you. There’s no one else in the frame for this.’
I felt like my eyes were scatting all over the place in response to the steadiness of hers. I couldn’t seem to stop them. ‘She said something about a stalker.’
Jessy almost laughed. ‘Really? How helpful.’
I found myself pinching my forehead as I tried to focus. ‘Well, she didn’t use the word stalker– I think I used that word.’
She gave an exaggerated sigh. ‘Tell me what happened.’
‘We were still at the bar, and she was showing me some photos on her phone. She got a call, some bloke heavy breathing or whatever. She said “hello, hello, hello” you know, like she was waiting for someone to say something, and then she told him she knew who he was and to leave her alone.’
‘Can you remember her exact words?’
‘Sam, that’s the name she called him. I know it’s you Sam, or something like that. Then she hung up on him.’
Jessy raised her eyebrows but said nothing. Maybe she was more excited by this lead than she was letting on. It probably wouldn’t do to let the suspect think you’re not still all over them.
‘Why didn’t you mention this call earlier?’
‘I honestly don’t know. I’d forgotten all about it. I was thinking about my own problems. I just ... I forgot about it, I’m sorry Jessy.’
She stared at me as if she’d like to smack me around the head. Our intimate moment was interrupted by Richard’s arrival back in the room. He pulled Jessy aside and they spoke in low murmurs. Then she turned back to face me.
‘Andrew, we’ve got the time of death. It’s much later than we thought. Close to ten in the morning.’
I exhaled slowly.
Richard smiled, as best he could. ‘Your alibi is good for hours either side. We appreciate your time. We may have some more questions later, but for now you’re free to go.’
I stared at my computer screen. The last Schneider statement hovered ephemerally before me like the words on a heads-up display; I couldn’t make any sense of them. I was having trouble believing they were written in English. I contemplated ringing IT and seeing if my computer had a virus that had mutated everything into Klingon.
The more I thought about it the more I really did believe that I’d given Jessy the name of Lil’s killer.
Sam was the lowlife piece of shit who’d robbed a beautiful young woman of her life at the age of twenty-three. She had freckles and she had dimples and all she wanted to do was arrange flowers. How could anyone do what I’d seen in that photograph to a woman like that?
Jessy had been unequivocal when she dropped me off in the underground car park at work after our interview wrapped last night.
‘Listen, Andrew, you’re in the clear. This is all an unfortunate mess – you’re bloody unlucky – but you need to forget all this ever happened and move on, yeah?’
I nodded. ‘Of course.’
‘I mean, you fucked this girl once. She wasn’t your girlfriend – like you said, she wasn’t anything to you.’
‘I understand. What do you think I’m going to do?’
She shrugged. ‘Oh, I don’t know. Try and do my job for me?’
‘I can’t wait to put it all behind me, starting right now. You can follow up the Sam lead. I will just forget this ever happened.’
I clicked the “unlock” button on my BMW’s remote. ‘It was good seeing you again, Jess.’
She laughed. ‘Yes, let’s do a five-hour interrogation again some time, shall we?’
‘Well, it’s sexy the way you do it.’
‘Good to see you’ve bounced back. You really are incorrigible.’
So now I was back to my normal life, back to work in the office, back to Schneider, back to Sally giving me a hard time about my attitude. I told Rufus what he needed to know about what’d happened. He said I had a bright future with the DPP and as far as he was concerned the matter would go no further. Since he was the one who had provided the details of my alibi, no one other than Rufus even knew I’d been interviewed, so there really was no need for the thing to go any further. Life would just continue as normal. No problems. All good.
Just as soon as Jessy charged Sam.
‘What do you mean?’ I demanded as Jessy and I faced each other across a table at Harry’s, the café midway between my work and hers, about a week after Lil’s death. It was seven o’clock in the morning and I’d forgone my morning run to propose we meet up for a coffee here. Harry’s was popular in the mornings so if you wanted privacy you had to go out to the beer garden, where there was generally dew on every surface, leading to bad wet-bum syndrome, and a flock of corellas had taken over the giant fig trees from where they screamed what sounded to me like cockatoo obscenities and threw branches at you. I was pretty sure they were all going to get shot soon as it was all getting a bit out of hand. But for now, the corellas ruled the beer garden at Harry’s.
‘What I said.’
‘A dead end? Are you telling me there’s no Sam? She said he was a man who couldn’t take no for an answer, an ex-boyfriend, maybe, or a friend who wanted more.’
Jessy sighed like she was dealing with a pouty child.
‘There is a Sam, but he’s not the killer.’
‘What are you talking about? Who is he?’
‘Sam is Sam Robertson, SC.’
I frowned. ‘I know that name. He’s a defence barrister. I haven’t been up against him myself, but he represented – he was on Rose. And Hadley. And that rape case ... you know, the stockings guy.’
‘Yeah, Reilly. And I’m pretty sure I saw Robertson’s name in the paper recently – he’s been representing that James Millan, the guy who burned his girlfriend alive but reckons his sentence was too harsh ’cause actually she’s not as fucked up as she claims.’
‘He’s Lil’s brother-in-law. He’s married to her sister Amanda. He’s the only Sam in her life.’ Jessy shook her head. ‘There just isn’t anyone else.’
‘Have you pulled his phone records?’
‘And Lil’s. The call she received when she was with you was from a public phone booth in the city. Turns out they still exist. There are no calls from his phone to her that night. There are very occasional calls from him to her on previous occasions. Maybe once a fortnight? At appropriate times. Like a brother-in-law might call his sister-in-law. Nothing like you’d expect if they were having an affair. We checked her phone for texts – nothing.’
‘Maybe he doesn’t know how to text. Or maybe he deleted all her texts before he left her apartment after killing her.’
‘Maybe. There are no emails in Outlook on her computer or his. Maybe they used webmail, but Sam’s given us access to his hotmail address. It’s got tonnes and tonnes of history – it’s clearly the address he uses every day. But there’s nothing on that except perfectly innocuous emails between them. Perhaps he has another one. The IT guys are working on that and trying to get into hers but that’s not an easy thing.’
‘What are the innocuous emails about?’
‘She asks him for legal advice about setting up her own floristry shop. He gives her the advice. There are a few other emails where she asks him a few further questions on it, and he responds. There’s nothing particularly over-familiar in the emails.’
‘Could he have arranged for her to write those? Or written them himself from a webmail address he’d created? Maybe he thought they might be needed in case his wife found them out, to provide him with a cover story?’
Jessy sighed, looking up and nodding thanks as our coffees were delivered. ‘Maybe, but we’ve spoken to all of her friends, all of her work colleagues, her family – no one knows anything about her being in a relationship with Sam or anyone. If she was having sex with her sister’s husband, she didn’t tell a living soul about it. Not even her best friends. Not even her friends who are living overseas. And everyone who knew the family said that they seemed to have a perfectly innocent and normal friendly family relationship.’
‘She said to me her brother-in-law was a lawyer and an arsehole.’
‘Well, if that’s the case you’re the only one she’s ever told how she feels about him. Ever.’
I understood why Jessy found it hard to believe that a woman would confess an intimate secret to some strange bloke she’d picked up that night in a bar. But maybe she had, just casually without thinking, because I was no one. It was a secret; she couldn’t tell her family, she couldn’t tell her friends. But I was no one.
Maybe I really was the one and only person in the world to whom this quirky, pretty woman had given enough information to enable her killer to be caught.
Justice for Lil Constantine was in my hands.
‘No.’ Jessy was firm.
‘What do you mean?’
‘No, I can see what you’re thinking. This is not your problem. Leave it to me. Richard and I are the police officers. We will do the investigation. You are the last root she had and that’s it.’
‘Yeah, but what if –’
‘For God’s sake, Andrew,’ Jessy snapped. ‘You’re starting to piss me off. I shouldn’t have told you anything.’
‘Jessy, I’m only trying to help you catch this guy.’
‘I’m not giving you any more information.’
Shit. ‘You have to,’ I whined. ‘Come on Jessy, you have to keep me updated.’
She stood and thrust five dollars into my hand to cover her coffee, then tried in vain to unstick her wet pants from her bottom. ‘Forget it. You’re not a cop; you’ve no right to this information. And as a witness and a one-time suspect in the case I very much doubt you personally will be the one handling the prosecution when we ultimately find who did this.’
‘Is there any more DNA? Apart from mine?’
‘No,’ Jessy snapped, glaring down at me. ‘And if there was it would’ve been suffocated by the four gallons of DNA you managed to leave everywhere. Don’t bug me about this anymore, Andrew. I mean it.’